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BEN BOLCH / ON THE NBA

More leaks spring up as Clippers try to fix holes in their lineup

Now Blake Griffin is out, because of a strained left hamstring, joining Chris Paul and Chauncey Billups on the sidelines as the Clippers descend in the Western Conference standings after strong start.

February 04, 2013|By Ben Bolch

WASHINGTON -- They have gone from Lob City to Yawn City, the flashiest point guard in the league joined in street clothes Monday by the power forward who turns his passes into aerial artistry.

The Clippers' alley-oop attack isn't the only thing that has been grounded.

A team that once won 17 consecutive games and held the best record in the NBA for parts of December is trending heavily in the wrong direction, hemorrhaging starters and a once-considerable cushion in the standings.

Chris Paul is out. Chauncey Billups is out. And now Blake Griffin is out, having strained his left hamstring.

It could be over and out for the Clippers and their hopes of winning the Western Conference.

"It's frustrating," Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said after his team's latest setback, a 98-90 clunker at the Verizon Center against the Washington Wizards, "because we're giving back a lot of what we had built up earlier in the season."

The Clippers have been in a giving mood a lot lately, like a millionaire who bankrupts himself by giving out fistfuls of cash to people on the street.

Losers of seven of their last nine games, the Clippers hold only a two-game lead over Memphis for the third seeding in the West. What's worse, they are only 21/2 games ahead of Golden State for the No. 4 spot, which would entail opening the playoffs on the road should the Warriors overtake them.

"If you have a pipe and there's a hole in it, you try to fix it," said Clippers forward Lamar Odom, who had three points, nine rebounds and five turnovers as a fill-in starter for Griffin. "We'll try to fix it."

It's going to take more than duct tape to hold this patchwork lineup together, particularly late in games.

The Clippers need Super Glue to keep the ball from falling out of their hands in the fourth quarter. They committed five turnovers in the final 51/2 minutes, transforming a two-point deficit into an easy victory for the woeful Wizards.

Even with three stars sidelined, shouldn't the Clippers' C crew have enough to beat a team that entered the day with 11 victories?

"When you're a championship-level team, you have high expectations, and we do no matter who's in or who's out," Clippers guard Jamal Crawford said. "Obviously, we're missing some of our better players, but no excuse. One of our strengths is our depth and we all have to continue to step up."

Perhaps the scariest part is that the Clippers lost even with Crawford scoring 28 points and DeAndre Jordan grabbing 22 rebounds and Eric Bledsoe outplaying former No. 1 draft pick John Wall.

There seems to be only one answer.

"The @Clippers better hurry up and get @CP3 back!" Magic Johnson tweeted late in the fourth quarter, the former Lakers great taking a rare opportunity to tweak his crosstown rival this season.

The Clippers hope to have Griffin back Wednesday against Orlando, though hamstrings can heal slowly. Billups (foot tendinitis) remains on pace to return ahead of Paul (bruised right kneecap), according to Del Negro, though the coach said he wasn't sure either would play in the final four games of a trip that is deteriorating by the day.

"We'll take our time and stay patient and poised and center ourselves," Odom said, invoking a Zen-like mantra.

The Clippers probably need to take a more drastic approach, unless they want to continue putting their hopes for this season to rest.

ben.bolch@latimes.com

twitter.com/latbbolch

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