WASHINGTON — A trip that already was already shaping up as a major challenge for the Clippers only got more difficult Monday night when Blake Griffin didn't play because of a strained left hamstring.
And so as the Clippers continue to fall apart on the injury front, they also are falling apart on the court. They lost their third consecutive game Monday, 98-90 to the lowly Washington Wizards, a game in which sloppy ballhandling cost them a chance at victory.
Griffin, who didn't talk after the game, saw the Clippers fall to 1-3 on their eight-game Grammy trip and lose for the seventh time in nine games. He was in uniform and on the bench to watch his team turn the ball over 20 times, eight in the fourth quarter.
"Blake is a huge part of our team," Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said.
Griffin is the Clippers' leading scorer (18.5 points a game) and rebounder (8.6), and he had played in 197 consecutive games before Monday.
Others tried to take up the slack. But even with DeAndre Jordan collecting a career-high 22 rebounds, Jamal Crawford scoring 28 points and Eric Bledsoe getting 17 points and nine assists, the Clippers (34-16) suffered a loss that left them only one game ahead of the Golden State Warriors (30-17) in the loss column in the Pacific Division.
The Clippers said Griffin noticed the injury Sunday night after their loss in Boston but didn't think it was an issue. But as he went through warmups Monday, Griffin told the team he felt the hamstring get tighter.
Griffin, who also has a sore left ankle that has been prone to swelling off and on over the last couple of weeks, returned to the locker room just before the game started.
Lamar Odom started in his place but had only three points and nine rebounds before fouling out with 43.2 seconds left.
"I knew it was bothering him," Del Negro said about Griffin's injury. "In the big picture, we have to be smart."
Griffin's injury is hardly the only one the Clippers are dealing with.
Crawford has played the last two games with a broken nose suffered during Friday night's game in Toronto.
Meanwhile, starting guards Chris Paul (bruised right kneecap) and Chauncey Billups (tendinitis in left foot) sat out again and are both listed as day to day. Paul has missed eight consecutive games and 11 of the last 13; Billups has played in only three games all season.
"Obviously, we are missing some of our better players," Crawford said. "But there's no excuse. We all have to continue to step up and get the monkey off of our backs."
The Clippers had that opportunity when they trailed 80-79 with 5:39 left. But they turned the ball over five times after that, and the Wizards pulled away.
"Really, the turnovers did us in tonight," Del Negro said. "With mismatch lineups out there a little bit, we're trying to make plays that we can't make and we're turning it over too much."
Talkin' trade . . . or not
The Clippers are not pursuing Boston Celtics center Kevin Garnett despite reports to the contrary, according to NBA officials who were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.
There has been speculation that Bledsoe and Clippers small forward Caron Butler would be the centerpieces in a deal to acquire Garnett. But the NBA officials said the Clippers' front office has not had any conversations with Boston's front office about such a trade.
Garnett has a no-trade clause in his contract.
Bledsoe has been the starting point guard in Paul's absence. The Clippers already struggle when Bledsoe goes to the bench for a rest, and they have no other true point guard on the roster.
The NBA officials said the Clippers can't even consider moving Bledsoe until they learn whether Paul, a free agent after the season, will re-sign with them.
Del Negro said the organization doesn't think it really needs to address trade rumors with players.
"Most of the time it's not real accurate," he said. "As things come up or I feel things need to be talked to a certain player, then I'll address that or Gary will. So that's not an issue right now."
The coach was referring to Gary Sacks, the Clippers' vice president of basketball operations.
Del Negro said there probably will be many more rumors about the Clippers and other teams leading up to the Feb. 21 trade deadline.