Clippers struggle against another good team

LOS ANGELES – If the Clippers were looking to make a statement Wednesday night, this definitely wasn’t it.
Their opportunity to step up and move back into third place in the Western Conference slipped away in a 96-85 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. Now it’s back to the drawing board.
The Clippers have insisted that games against contending teams aren’t necessarily a measure of what will happen in the playoffs, but they can’t feel too good about the way their season has transpired lately.
In the past month, they’ve lost just five games, but each one has been to a team that could be considered either a contender for the NBA title or a difficult playoff opponent: Miami, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Denver and now Memphis.
Asked why they’ve struggled against such good teams, center DeAndre Jordan said, “We’ve got to figure it out or it’s going to be a quick postseason.”
Perhaps he’s being a bit hasty, but the fact is, the Clippers can’t seem to get over a mental hump that stands in their way. They’re good, but are they good enough?
“We want to be playing better,” forward Blake Griffin said. “Concern, I don’t know if that’s the right word. Frustration, yeah. We’re not scared of any team we have to face in the playoffs, but we do need to be playing better and we do need to be executing better to be able to impose our will and our game on other teams.”
That didn’t happen Wednesday against a Grizzlies team that now sits third in the conference standings by a half game over the Clippers. The Grizzlies shot better than 60 percent for the first three quarters, held the Clippers to just 33 points in the second half and scored 46 points in the paint.
Chris Paul scored 24 points and added 9 assists and Griffin finished with 22 points, but the Clippers failed to make important defensive shots and got just 11 points from their bench.
“We struggled to make shots,” coach Vinny Del Negro said. “We gave up too many threes, we didn’t score enough points, didn’t screen well enough or execute well, and then the turnovers really bothered us. I was disappointed we didn’t make a harder push at the end.”
The Clippers were missing Caron Butler (strained left elbow) and Eric Bledsoe (sore left calf), leaving them short on the bench. Matt Barnes started for Butler and scored 14 points, but Jamal Crawford, who sat the previous two games with a sore ankle, played 33 minutes and made just one of 10 shots.
“I don’t want to make any excuses,” Crawford said. “I mean, I was out there. But for me, I think the thing out there tonight was rhythm. I got good looks on some of them, for sure, but it was just rhythm.”
The Clippers don’t play again until Sunday night against the New York Knicks. That gives them three days to figure out what they can do to improve over the regular season’s final five weeks.
“It’s going to take more energy, more production, from all of us,” Paul said. “One of my old coaches used to always tell me and another player, ‘You’re pretty good as is, but I’m going to need you to be one percent better.’ So I’ve got to be better, Blake’s got to be better, everybody.”
That would help.