Chris Paul doesn't mince his words.
The outspoken leader normally doesn't overreact to losses or slumps in December, either, so it was a bit surprising to hear him say that Saturday's tilt with the Washington Wizards was a "must-win."
"It's early in the season," Paul told reporters after the Los Angeles Clippers' loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday. "But it's a must-win for us [against the Wizards] so we can at least feel somewhat decent about this [road] trip."
Paul stood by his bold statement, scoring 38 points -- the most since his 42-point performance on Halloween against the Golden State Warriors -- on 11-of-14 shooting and dishing out 12 assists in the Clippers' 113-97 victory at Verizon Center. He's the first player since 2009 to go for 38-plus points, 12-plus assists and three-plus steals in a game, and he already has done it twice this season.
While Clippers coach Doc Rivers disagreed with the notion that the game was a must-win at shootaround, he admitted that going 3-4 against mainly sub-.500 Eastern Conference teams would be a major disappointment at any point in the season.
"I think they're a little frustrated on this trip," Rivers told reporters. "They think it should have gone better. It still can go well. If you win this game, 4-3 on a seven-game trip -- that's good. It's not what we wanted. We want to win all seven of them. But you just keep plugging along."
With the win, the Clippers finished the trip above .500 at 4-3 and are now 16-9. That isn't necessarily where they expected to be at this point in the season, but at the very least Saturday's win showed that if they need to win a tough road game to ease their mental psyche, they can.
How it happened: Jamal Crawford's insertion into the Clippers' starting lineup helped spread the floor, allowing L.A. to shoot 56.8 percent and lead by 13 points at halftime. It looked as if the Clippers were going to put the Wizards away in the third when the lead reached 22 points, but Washington began intentionally fouling DeAndre Jordan and cut the deficit to 12 to start the fourth. Paul took over in the final frame (12 points), extending the lead to 23 points and effectively ending the Wizards' hopes of a comeback.
What it means: Though the Clippers' 4-3 record on the trip was disappointing, it was by no means a disaster. The Clippers lost two games to sub-.500 teams that they probably should have won (against Brooklyn and Cleveland). With seven of their next nine games at home, the Clippers have a chance to pad their record and try to climb into one of the top three seeds in the West.
Hits: Jared Dudley broke out of his season-long offensive slump, scoring 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting.
All five starters scored 15 or more points. Jordan had a double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds), and Blake Griffin narrowly missed one (16 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists).
The Clippers' 3-point shooting returned to normalcy, as they made 9-of-20 (45 percent) from beyond the arc.
L.A. turned the ball over only 10 times, their second-fewest total this season.
Misses: With Crawford starting, the Wizards' bench outscored the Clippers' bench 32-11.
Despite not breaking triple-digits in the scoring column, the Wizards shot 49.4 percent from the field and scored 54 points in the paint.
John Wall (24 points, 12 assists) carved up the Clippers' defense.
Stat of the game: 5-of-7. That was Paul's shooting on 3-pointers Saturday, eclipsing his previous season high of three makes. Paul was shooting only 31.7 percent on 3-pointers heading into the game, so a breakout performance is encouraging.
Up next: After a long and rigorous trip, the NBA schedule-makers didn't make things easier for the Clippers, who host the San Antonio Spurs (18-4) on Monday night.