LOS ANGELES -- Given another chance to prove they can play with the best teams in the NBA, the Los Angeles Clippers again came up short.
It's getting to be a reoccurring problem for the Clippers, who could not take advantage of a Memphis Grizzlies team playing the second night of a back-to-back in a 96-85 loss at Staples Center.
At home, no less.
And with third place in the Western Conference standings at stake.
But just as they've done in recent matchups against the better teams in the league -- the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs and Denver Nuggets -- the Clippers weren't up to the task.
"It's just frustrating to lose to a team that we're fighting for a playoff spot against with it being so late in the season," Clippers center DeAndre Jordan said. "All of these games are important, they really mean a lot. So we really have to find a way to get these wins down the stretch."
The biggest problem being an inability to contain the hot-shooting Grizzlies, who hit 37-of-68 shots from the field behind 21 points from Marc Gasol, 18 from Tayshaun Prince and 17 from Mike Conley.
Chris Paul scored 24 points and Blake Griffin added 22, but a usually dependable bench managed just 11 points and Jamal Crawford struggled on 1-of-10 shooting as the Clippers never led in the second half.
"We've just got to get better," Paul said. "Communicate and be a little more aggressive on both ends."
The Grizzlies won for the 13th time in 14 games and created some breathing room between themselves and the Clippers for the third seed in the Western Conference. Memphis now owns a 1 1/2-game edge over the Clippers.
"It was a great start and a great finish," Memphis guard Tony Allen said. "All the guys were focused. Coach (Lionel Hollins) came in and said he couldn't give kudos to one person because everyone did it collectively."
The Grizzlies shot a torrid 65.6 percent from the field in the first half, sinking 21 of 32 shots to take a 54-52 lead at intermission.
Prince had 12 points, Gasol added 10 and Randolph added nine.
But they couldn't quite shake the Clippers, even with the hot shooting.
That's because Paul was on fire, scoring 18 points on 5-of-6 shooting and Griffin added 15 on 6 of 9 from the field.
But the Clippers managed just 33 points in the second half, while the Grizzlies continued their hot shooting.
"Defense was the key," Gasol said. "We were able to get stops at the end of the game. Chris (Paul) creates a lot for everybody but we were able to stop it. Everybody was good, everybody was helping each other. We got a lot of deflections, got some rebounds, and we were able to score."
The result was a big win for Memphis, and another tough loss for the Clippers.
"One thing about this profession, one day you feel like you're on top of the world and then there are those days when you feel like it's the end of the world," Clippers forward Lamar Odom said. "You just have to realize anything besides winning a championship is coming up short."
And right now, the Clippers are coming up short.
Meanwhile, the Grizzlies are rolling.
"We've been executing really well," Hollins said. "We've been moving the ball very well, playing well together, and attacking."
NOTES: It was good news and bad news for the Clippers, who welcomed back back-up guard Jamal Crawford to the rotation but were without back-up point guard Eric Bledsoe (calf) and starting forward Caron Butler, who is dealing with an elbow injury. While Butler was described as doubtful, Clippers insiders held out hope he could play. But during a pregame workout Butler was still dealing experiencing discomfort and the club decided to hold him out. ... Coming to Wednesday the Grizzlies were 12-1 since Feb. 8th, a string that began shortly after the trade of Rudy Gay to the Toronto Raptors in late January. But Memphis coach Lionel Hollins stopped short of saying his team is better without Gay: "We played for games without Zach Randolph and won all of them. Are we a better team without Zach Randolph?," Hollins asked. "We're just a good solid team that tries to play together. We move the ball very well we play defense and we try to play to each other's strengths. Most night it's worked out so far. Whether were better (without Gay) or not isn't an important topic"