Los Angeles: Chris Paul had 22 points and 11 assists, Blake Griffin added 17 points and 11 rebounds, and the Los Angeles Clippers hung on to beat the pesky Washington Wizards 94-87 on Saturday night.
Coming off a sweep of their three-game road trip through Memphis, Houston and Minnesota, the Clippers improved their home record to 19-4. The win was their fourth in a row since the 104-101 loss to Orlando on January 12 that ended their franchise-record, 13-game home winning streak.
The Clippers won despite shooting a season-low 36.6 per cent from the field. Paul, the NBA player of the month for December, returned to the lineup after missing three games because of a bruised right kneecap and scored seven points in the final 3:14.
The surging Clips have won an astonishing 24 of their last 27 overall and are within a half-game of idle Oklahoma City for the NBA’s best record, a full game ahead of San Antonio. The top teams in the Western Conference will go head-to-head tomorrow night at Los Angeles in a rematch of their overtime battle on November 21, when the Thunder beat the Clippers 117-111 in Griffin’s hometown.
Just hours after the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings raised their first Stanley Cup banner to the Staples Centre rafters and received their championship rings as a prelude to their lockout-delayed season opener, the Clippers reached the midway mark of their spectacular season and continued to tantalise their long-suffering fans with hopes of an NBA Finals appearance in June. The farthest the franchise has gotten in their 43-year history was the conference semi-finals, in 2006 and again last season.
John Wall scored 24 points off the bench for the Wizards, whose league-worst record dropped to 8-30 even though they had won four of their previous five games. Wall, whose block of Ty Lawson’s potential game-tying layup in the final seconds helped the Wizards escape Denver with a 112-108 victory on Friday night and snap an eight-game road losing streak, shot 7 for 16 and had six assists in his fifth game of the season.
The NBA’s top overall draft pick in 2010 returned to action on January 12 after missing the team’s first 33 games with a stress injury to his left kneecap, but has yet to start.
The Wizards are a league-worst 2-17 on the road. They haven’t won consecutive games on the same road trip since last February 12-14, when they beat Detroit by 21 points and Portland by 15 before losing to the Clippers the following night at Staples Centre.
Los Angeles missed 11 of their first 14 shots in the fourth quarter before Paul hit a 3-pointer that gave them an 85-80 lead with 3:14 to play.
Bradley Beal hit a 3-pointer at the other end and Wall made one of two free throws to cut the Clippers’ margin to 85-84 with 2 minutes remaining. But Griffin hit a pair of free throws, then converted his offensive rebound of Paul’s missed jumper into a reverse layup for an 89-86 advantage. Paul helped clinch it with a 17-footer and two free throws in the final 33 seconds.
After trailing by as many as 12 points with 2 minutes left in the first half, the Wizards got within 52-50 on a layup by Emeka Okafor that capped a 10-3 spurt with 7:40 left in the third quarter.
The Clippers built the margin back up to 76-64 on Eric Bledsoe’s 3-pointer in the opening minute of the fourth, but Washington kept grinding and narrowed the gap to 76-73 with a 9-0 run highlighted by Wall’s alley-oop dunk off a lob from Jordan Crawford, playing his second game after missing the previous four with a sore left ankle.