WASHINGTON -- The most telling stat about the 3-0 start by the Washington Wizards this season was that the combined record of the team's opponents was 1-10. So going into last night's game against the Los Angeles Clippers, there were some doubts spinning in the head of Wizards coach Eddie Jordan.
"I see a lot of holes in our defense," Jordan said before the game. "You watch tape, you say, 'Geez, how are we doing this?'"
Jordan and his team will undoubtedly watch tape again today, this time from last night's 102-97 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers at MCI Center. The first defeat for the Wizards of the 2005-06 season was not too difficult to analyze - too much Elton Brand.
Brand punished the Wizards inside for a game-high 31 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Clippers to their fourth win in five games, while his former Duke teammate Corey Maggette added 20 points off the bench in his first game coming back from a hamstring injury suffered in the preseason.
"I'm looking for opportunities, Coach [Mike Dunleavy] called my number again and again, and I'm trying to make a play," said Brand, who made several in shooting 14-for-18 from the field and scoring 15 points in the third quarter.
While Brand was making plays all night, the Wizards again lacked the offensive cohesion that has been a struggle for them despite their recent string of wins. Gilbert Arenas shot 5-for-21, and Antawn Jamison was 4-for-13. Caron Butler led Washington with 19 points off the bench.
Jordan saw some of the same deficiencies that have plagued his team so far come back to haunt them last night.
"People driving on us, cutting on us, I thought Elton had a big game with a hand in his face, I think Cuttino [Mobley] made some shots, give them credit for executing and getting it done," said Jordan. "Sammy [Cassell, six points and 10 assists] controls the action and leads them. I didn't necessarily see a leader for us tonight."
Nonetheless, the Wizards had a chance to win.
After Butler put Washington ahead on successive plays - a three-point play off a steal and drive for a 95-94 lead with 1:31 left and a 16-foot baseline jumper for a 97-96 lead 30 seconds later - the Wizards failed to score again and couldn't stop the Clippers.
Mobley scored on a put-back layup after Quintin Ross was blocked by Brendan Haywood with 35.8 seconds left. Arenas missed on a drive, but the ball was tipped out of bounds and the Wizards got another opportunity. The play was designed to go to Arenas, but the ball ended up in the hands of Chucky Atkins.
"Gilbert was the main option, but they called out the play before we even ran it," said Atkins, who was open on the right wing for a long three after getting freed by a baseline screen by Haywood. "I thought I had a good shot. It felt good. I missed it."
The victory was the second in three games on the road for the Clippers, who won only 10 times in 41 games away from the Staples Center last season.
A year ago, it was the Wizards who were making an early-season statement. Now it's the Clips.
"It's great for our confidence and our psyche," said Brand, now in his fifth season with the team. "We're 4-1, they were undefeated. Minnesota spoiled our little undefeated record and we spoiled someone else's. That's what you want to do on the road, win ballgames. That's something we didn't do last year."