The return of Chris Paul figured to give the Clippers a boost, another weapon to throw at the Washington Wizards.
It turned out the Clippers and Paul needed everything they had to withstand an opponent with the worst record in the NBA, L.A. pulling out a 94-87 victory over Washington on Saturday night at Staples Center.
Paul, who had missed the previous three games with a bone bruise in his right knee, had 22 points and 11 assists.
His jumper with 32.4 seconds left gave the Clippers a 91-86 lead that sealed the victory and pushed their winning streak to four games.
His two free throws with 8.9 seconds left for the final margin precipitated an "MVP" chant from fans.
"Chris is tough," Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said. "He's a competitor, he wanted to be out there. We definitely needed him tonight."
Three-point shooting kept the Wizards in the game and gave the Clippers plenty of trouble. Washington was eight for 20 from three-point range; the Clippers were only five for 21.
When rookie Bradley Beal made a three-pointer with 2:43 left, it pulled Washington within 85-83.
From that point, the Clippers were in a game.
John Wall, who had 24 points in his fifth game since returning from a leg injury, made one of two free throws to make it 85-84.
Blake Griffin (17 points, 11 rebounds) made two free throws for an 87-84 lead, but then fouled Nene as the Wizards center scored on a driving layup. But Nene missed the free throw, leaving the Clippers ahead, 87-86, lead with 1:33 left.
After Paul missed a shot, Griffin got the offensive rebound and scored off a pass from Paul for an 89-86 lead.
Wall then committed a turnover, opening the door for Paul to deliver the game to the Clippers.
"Washington is getting some of their players back, and they are playing well," Del Negro said of the Wizards, who are 8-30 but had won four of five games before Saturday, including victories over Oklahoma City and Denver. "I knew this was going to be a tough game."
So the Clippers had been warned not to take Washington lightly. But it wasn't until late in the second quarter that they were able to get some separation from the Wizards.
Del Negro said Chauncey Billups has been making progress in his recovery from tendinitis in his left foot. But the coach said there still isn't a timetable for Billups to return. Del Negro said Billups will start playing in three-on-three workouts. Billups has continued to get therapy. "He said it's feeling a lot better," Del Negro said. . . .
There already has been chatter that plenty of teams are interested in acquiring Eric Bledsoe in a trade. The Clippers aren't shopping their young point guard, but that hasn't stopped the rumors from flying or stopped scouts and personnel executives from asking to see if Bledsoe is available. The trade deadline is Feb. 21.
"There will be all these rumors and all these things being said, but most of them probably won't be accurate," Del Negro said. "There are guys' names that are out there. We'll discuss things with them if there's anything to it. But I don't see that being an issue for us."