Wizards cool off red-hot Clippers, 104-96

Paul Pierce: “We gave them a taste of that East Coast basketball tonight.”

Washington Wizards forward Paul Pierce nodded his head walking down the Verizon Center tunnel Friday night, a satisfied look on his face after celebrating on the court with some good-natured trash talk directed at Doc Rivers, his former coach on the opposing bench.

He seemed to realize there was something more to Washington's wire-to-wire 104-96 win over the Los Angeles Clippers at Verizon Center. The Wizards had imposed their will, cooling down one of the NBA's hottest teams with brute physicality and a dynamic back court that has suddenly become a force on both ends of the floor.

"We gave them a taste of that East Coast basketball tonight," Pierce said.

Should Washington eventually emerge as one of the NBA's elite teams this season, there will be far more important games than this one. But this victory, over a Western Conference power that entered riding a nine-game winning streak, may well be the contest where this team discovered just how good it could become.

The Wizards won for the 11th time in 13 games at Verizon Center, their best start at home in franchise history, and earned several standing ovations from the crowd of 17,437. They have won seven of their past eight.

Guard Bradley Beal, two days removed from a game-winning lay-in at the buzzer to beat the Orlando Magic, had a season-high 29 points, and center Marcin Gortat added 18 as all five Washington starters finished in double figures. The Wizards had twice as many assists (28) as turnovers (14).

Point guard John Wall collected his fourth straight double-double with 10 points and 11 assists, and his defense on the Clippers' Chris Paul proved crucial. Paul had a team-high 19 points and six assists but also committed a season-high six turnovers.

Washington (16-6) held Los Angeles, which entered the contest as the NBA's third-highest scoring team, to 42.7 percent shooting. And each time the Clippers threatened to turn Friday into a tight finish, the Wizards had an answer, particularly on the defensive end.

"When we keep teams under 100 points, it seems like we can't lose that way," said Wall, who had never beaten the Clippers with both Paul and forward Blake Griffin healthy.

Rivers compared the game to a boxing match, one in which Washington dictated all the terms. Los Angeles had just three fast-break points, and its usual array of highlight reel lobs were replaced by a bevy of turnovers and clanked shots.

Los Angeles (16-6) never cut its deficit below eight points in the second half, and the pace played right into Washington's strengths.

"We fought their fight, or at least tried to, and usually you lose when you try to, in boxing, fight someone else's fight," Rivers said.

Though this was just another mid-December game on the NBA calendar, there was a sense amongst the Wizards entering Friday that this matchup against one of the Western Conference's powerhouses would be a chance to prove their hot start was not a fluke. Before Friday, Washington owned just one win over a team currently above .500.

More fuel could be found by looking back to last year, when the Clippers came to Verizon Center — almost a year ago to the day — and humbled Washington in a 113-97 victory, a game in which Paul outdueled Wall with 34 points. Wall countered with 28 points, but his performance proved to be more complete this time around.

"I know this kid long enough to tell you that he was waiting for this game," Gortat said of Wall. "He wanted to win this game, and this is a huge improvement from John from the Day One. It wasn't about who was going to score more points. Who's going to lead the team to win the game?"

Mark Giannotto, The Washington Post

Colleges

Regents approve plans for Cole conversion

The University System of Maryland Board of Regents on Friday approved plans nearly unanimously to convert Cole Field House into a $155 million indoor football practice facility and academic center. Design of the plans will begin in May, with construction starting next December. The project, which was approved last month by the board's finance committee and which will be funded largely through private donations, is expected to be completed by June 2018. The state is expected to contribute about $25 million in funding, with another $25 million drawn from revenue earned in the Big Ten Conference.

More colleges

Navy's Greenspan honored; Terps' Steffen turning pro

Navy senior defender Joseph Greenspan was named to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America All-America first team. Greenspan, a 6-foot-6 center back who made the third team last season, helped Navy post nine shutouts with a 0.65 goals-against average. He had one goal and two assists. UMBC senior defender Oumar Ballo (Archbishop Curley) made the third team.

More men's soccer: Maryland is losing a key piece of its roster as sophomore goalkeeper Zack Steffen has announced he will forgo his final two seasons of eligibility to sign with SC Freiburg, a club in Germany's top division. Steffen played every minute in net for the Terps over the past two seasons and is regarded as one of the country's top prospects.

Women's basketball: UMBC signed 5-foot-7 guard Michaela Gelbaugh of Central Dauphin East in Harrisburg, Pa., to a national letter of intent during the early signing period.

Women's gymnastics: Maryland coach Brett Nelligan agreed to multiyear contract extension through at least 2019. Nelligan has an 89-56-1 record in five seasons, including 35-16 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. He became head coach before the 2009-10 season after the retirement of his predecessor and father, Bob Nelligan, who was coach for 31 seasons.

Horse racing

Ceremony today at Laurel for Eighttofasttocatch

Today's nine-race program will include a retirement ceremony after the fourth race for Laurel Park-based Eighttofasttocatch, who ended his career last Saturday when the 8-year-old captured the Jennings Handicap for the fourth consecutive year. Owned by Sylvia Heft Arnold and trained by Tim Keefe, the son of Not For Love won 17 of 49 races and became the 24th Maryland-bred to reach millionaire status in his final race with a career-best 107 Beyer Speed figure.

From Sun staff and news services

Et cetera

Redskins QB McCoy cleared to face Giants

Washington Redskins quarterback Colt McCoy cleared the final hurdle standing in his way and received the green light from a team neck specialist to start Sunday against the New York Giants. McCoy saw the specialist after Friday's practice as a precautionary move. The quarterback had handled all of the first-team snaps during Friday's session, but the team wanted to make sure that McCoy's injury would not cause any further problems, coach Jay Gruden said.

Mike Jones, The Washington Post

More Redskins: Washington will be without two defensive starters for a second consecutive game Sunday, with strong safety Brandon Meriweather (big toe) and inside linebacker Keenan Robinson (MCL sprain) ruled out with injuries. Defensive end Jason Hatcher (right knee) and wide receiver DeSean Jackson (lower legs) are questionable. Backup running back Roy Helu Jr. (toe) also was ruled out.

Liz Clarke, The Washington Post

Baseball: The Washington Nationals formally announced the trade of left-handed pitcher Ross Detwiler to the Texas Rangers for two minor leaguers: second baseman Chris Bostick, 21, and right-handed reliever Abel De Los Santos, 22. Neither is ranked among Baseball America's top 10 Rangers prospects.

James Wagner, The Washington Post

 

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