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After taking several steps forward defensively, the Wizards take a step back against the Clippers

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WASHINGTON -- Coming off a four-game winning streak, the Washington Wizards seemed to be for the most part feeling good about themselves. Not only was their offense now clicking, but they seemed to be more focused defensively.

They were not dying on screens or failing to contest shots like they were earlier in the season. While Blake Griffin’s absence for the Clippers certainly did not make them a cakewalk, there was a sense that Washington's newfound confidence could carry over against a team that had been a bit inconsistent all year.

Unfortunately, the same kind of defensive intensity that had helped the Wizards put themselves back in the playoff race -- at least in the past week -- was just not there from the beginning of Monday's game which ended in a 108-91 loss.

After the game, Wizards head coach Randy Wittman believed that Monday's loss stemmed from their early offensive struggles. "I thought we let our ineffectiveness offensively affect our defense early in the first quarter," he said. To his point, Washington shot just 28 percent in that period.

John Wall, however, disagreed. "Not today. We didn’t play defense at all. Even when we made the run to come back we still didn’t play defense."

Washington allowed the Clippers to shoot 63.6 percent from the field in the first quarter and 52.6 percent for the entire game.

Of course, it would be unfair to pin the loss entirely on the Wizards' defensive effort. The Clippers had a fantastic game and played as well as they had all season, despite Blake Griffin's recent quadriceps injury. "It would probably be a little easier with Blake in there because we could force them to throw it back to him," Wall said.

However, the Clippers spread the Wizards out and ran several pick and rolls, with Chris Paul picking them apart one by one and DeAndre Jordan getting free for lobs all night. This was mostly because of Washington's small ball scheme, where posts would come up higher to the ball-handler, and leave the opposing big free to roam.

Over their last few games, the Wizards played against bigs that liked to roam in "no-man’s land" like Brook Lopez or DeMarcus Cousins. However, Jordan is probably the league’s best roller and was able to exploit this scheme by quickly getting to the rim. The Clippers' guards, whether it was Paul or Austin Rivers, were able to find him.

"We’ve been having our point guard and center, John and [Marcin] Gortat control the two [opposing point guard and center] while we just stay home on shooters," Jared Dudley said. "Early on DJ made us pay, a couple of slips, a couple of dunks, and lobs."

Fortunately, this is just the Wizards first loss in their last five games. They will have a chance to redeem themselves against another solid team in the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday night.

Still, their recent defensive effort and cohesiveness made the lack of execution during Monday's game harder to swallow. Only time will tell whether it was a typical hiccup in an 82-game schedule or the beginning of a downward spiral into what plagued them in the beginning of the season.