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Wizards show they can punch back against the NBA's elite in loss to Clippers

Wizards show they can punch back against the NBA's elite in loss to Clippers

WASHINGTON -- The Washington Wizards lost to the Los Angeles Clippers 135-119 on Sunday night at Capital One Arena. Here are five takeaways from what went down...

1. Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said before Sunday's game he was interested to see how his team would respond against the Clippers, just one week after they were pummeled by 25 points in a game that L.A. dropped 150 in total. Though the Wizards didn't get the win, they fared a lot better the second time around.

Maybe it wasn't enough for a moral victory, which players and coaches openly detest. But it was at the least an indication the Wizards can punch back and give one of the best teams in the NBA a legitimate fight.

The loss, though, was the Wizards' fifth in their last six games. They are 7-15 on the year.

2. Too much time has passed for Ian Mahinmi to justify his contract and fans will never let it down, and justifiably so. But through two games this season, it's clear that he can help this team, at least in the short-term with Thomas Bryant out.

That's because Mahinmi plays defense and the Wizards as a team do not. Well, they play defense, they just aren't very good at it.

Mahinmi is probably at-worst one of the Wizards two or three best defenders. Maybe Isaac Bonga is better than him. Bradley Beal, if that was his sole focus, could be better as well. But Mahinmi is all about defense and his commitment stands out on this year's Wizards, who are mostly comprised of offensive-minded players.

Mahinmi did a solid job on Joel Embiid in the Wizards' win over the Sixers last week and on Sunday had some standout moments, including a pair of blocks in the first half, one on Montrezl Harrell and another on Moe Harkless. The Harkless one saw Mahinmi close from the other side of the rim, the type of play no one else on the team could probably make.

Mahinmi had nine points and six rebounds in 18 minutes on 4-for-4 shooting from the field.

3. In case you haven't heard yet, Davis Bertans can shoot. The Latvian Laser lit it up again with 25 points in 28 minutes, including six threes.

What stood out the most about Bertans in this game, though, was his match-ups. He spent a good amount of time guarding Kawhi Leonard and, in the second half, Leonard guarded him on the other end.

Perhaps Brooks thought Bertans' size would give Leonard problems, but it didn't work. Leonard still got 34 points, 11 rebounds and five assists.

Bertans wasn't an ideal choice to guard Leonard, but then again no one really is. Not just on the Wizards, like, no one in the league can stop him consistently.

As for the flip-side of the Bertans-Leonard dual, Leonard wasn't on him all night. He got switched to guard him in the second quarter after Bertans' hot start. 

4. Speaking of defensive assignments, Beal (20 points, five assists) spent much of his night on Moe Harkless and not Leonard or Paul George (27 points, six assists, six rebounds). Harkless is a solid player, but because of his defense. He is the least threatening player in the Clippers' starting lineup on the offensive end.

It was probably more about saving Beal's energy than anything. He was playing his third game in four nights and is such an important part of the Wizards' offense, that it makes sense to focus on that end of the floor.

But given Beal's potential as a two-way player, and how often Brooks praises him for that, it seemed like this was a good opportunity to put that on display. Maybe if it were the playoffs, things would be different and he would be on Leonard or George.

5. Troy Brown Jr. has been inconsistent this season, one night looking the part as a first round pick and other nights looking lost and without confidence. But Sunday was his best game of the season so far.

Brown had it going early off the bench and was making plays on both ends of the floor. He was disruptive with deflections on defense and could not miss on offense.

Brown ended up with a season-high 22 points on 9-for-12 shooting. He also added five rebounds and four assists. He even shot 2-for-4 from three.

On nights like Sunday, when Brown has it going and knows it, it's easy to see how different he plays when his confidence builds. He is more assertive attacking the rim and plays defense with energy and aggression.

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Wizards fall victim to 61 combined points from Kawhi Leonard and Paul George

Wizards fall victim to 61 combined points from Kawhi Leonard and Paul George

The Wizards cut into multiple big leads built by the Clippers Sunday, but nothing was stopping LA from pulling away in this one. 

Troy Brown, Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans each scored over 20 points and Rui Hachimura added 17 of his own while Kawhi Leonard and Paul George combined to score 61 points. 

It was a winnable game for Washington, they just couldn't get it done against one of the best teams in the NBA. 

Here are some of their best moments in the 135-119 loss. 

Great ball movement leads to a Wagner three

With Thomas Bryant out, Moe Wagner has added an interesting new flavor to the starting lineup. He's not the prolific shooter Davis Bertans is, but his ability to stretch the floor has opened things up nicely for players like Bradley Beal and Rui Hachimura.

Early in the game against the Clippers, Washington took advantage of the extra space with their dribble-drive game. It was a promising start against one of the best teams in the league. 

Wagner will continue to start at the five with Bryant out for at least the next two weeks. If he can knock down threes with regularity off of ball movement like the play above or off pick and pops with Beal, it'll make things much easier on the Wizards' slashers. 

Mahinmi's block party

In his second game all year, Ian Mahinmi lifted the Wizards' second unit with the kind of interior defense this team has lacked all season long. 

Mahinmi finished with nine points, six rebounds and three blocks on the game and it was clear the Wizards' defense was better with him in the game. 

Washington has been the NBA's worst paint defense all year, so perhaps Mahinmi's return could spark some progression in that department. 

Troy Brown's save energizes Wizards

The Clippers were coming off a blowout loss to the Bucks in this game, so they came out firing after only leading the Wizards by one at halftime.

LA built a 16-point lead and seemed to be well on their way to an easy win, but then Troy Brown kickstarted a comeback. 

Brown saved the ball from going out of bounds, somehow found Chris Chiozza who then dished it to Mahinmi for an and-one finish.

It helped the Wizards flip momentum and keep the game close all the way to the final buzzer. 

The Wizards' first-round pick from a year ago had struggled as a starter and had recently been relegated to the bench, but Brown has looked much better with the reserves. 

He gets to play with the ball in his hands more and that's really seemed to positively impact his activity on defense. It also helps to be running an offense with Davis Bertans giving teams nightmares with his three-point shooting. 

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Kawhi Leonard not listed on Clippers injury report, will play vs. Wizards

Kawhi Leonard not listed on Clippers injury report, will play vs. Wizards

If you were hoping for the Wizards to avoid having to play Kawhi Leonard Sunday night, I have some bad news for you. 

According to Mark Medina, Leonard was not listed on the Clippers' injury report for their game against the Wizards, meaning he will not be sidelined due to "load management," "injury management," or whatever you'd like to call it. 

The Wizards play the Clippers on Sunday at 10:30 p.m. EST on NBC Sports Washington. 

Leonard is at the center of the NBA's load management controversy this season. He's missed six of the team's first 20 games, and as the team informed the league that a knee injury was the reason for his "load management," Doc Rivers told reporters the star forward has "never felt better" when he was pressed for an update. 

The NBA fined the Clippers for their actions. 

In the age of resting stars during the regular season so they're in top shape for the playoffs, you never know if a player like Leonard will be available to play your team. 

Well, we're here to tell you that he will almost certainly play alongside Paul George and perhaps the NBA's deepest roster. 

The Wizards play the Clippers on Sunday at 10:30 p.m. EST on NBC Sports Washington. 

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