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Grizzlies Prey Upon Defenseless Clippers

Times Staff Writer

This isn’t the time for congratulatory slaps on the back.

The Clippers still have much room for improvement, which was apparent again Thursday night in a 95-85 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum.

The Grizzlies became the latest team to expose the Clippers’ defensive weaknesses, spreading their offense and getting many uncontested shots.

Memphis apparently followed the blueprint the New Orleans Hornets used in Tuesday’s 120-108 rout, and Thursday’s game unfolded similarly.

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The Grizzlies displayed more intensity from the start, and outhustled the Clippers for loose balls and rebounds, leading by as many as 16 in the second half. The Clippers, holding to form, got it together and made another late run that fell short.

They finished 1-2 on a five-day trip, rarely playing with a sense of urgency.

Veteran players said complacency might be part of their problem.

“We’ve got to convince the team that at this time of the year, you have to be tough,” said Cuttino Mobley, who suffered a sprained right ankle in the second quarter and did not return.

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“You have to play 48 minutes, and it’s pivotal for us to learn that. You don’t just accept being in the playoffs, or having people talk about the Clippers, you have to really concentrate on winning.”

After Tuesday’s loss, Sam Cassell said the Clippers needed to toughen up if they wanted to finish strong and have postseason success.

On Thursday, Cassell further expressed his concerns about the Clipper mind-set.

“As a team, at times, I think we do get complacent and think, ‘OK, now it’s going to happen,’ ” the co-captain said. “We think that it’s going to happen for us and we’re going to win the basketball game. But nothing just happens, everything happens for a reason, so we have to understand that as a team. We need to toughen up individually. We have to understand that we have to toughen up.”

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The Grizzlies (39-29) have been a tough bunch in a five-game winning streak, including four double-digit victories, and are only a half-game behind the Clippers (39-28) in the race to be seeded fifth in the Western Conference playoffs.

The Clippers committed a season-high 24 turnovers (leading to 24 points for Memphis) and missed nine of 12 three-pointers.

Elton Brand had 25 points and 11 rebounds -- his team-leading 37th double-double -- Cassell scored 21 and Vladimir Radmanovic contributed 12. But the Clippers had no one else in double figures, or with more than three field goals.

“We just didn’t play that smart,” Coach Mike Dunleavy said. “We had 24 turnovers, some of our shot selection wasn’t very good and some of our box-out opportunities weren’t very good. But having said that, we were still in the game. We had some opportunities.”

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The Clippers went on a 10-0 run to pull to within three points, 74-71, with 3 minutes 36 seconds left in the fourth quarter. But the Grizzlies maintained their composure.

Mike Miller (21 points and 14 rebounds) and Eddie Jones (23 points) made consecutive three-pointers, and Chucky Atkins connected on two free throws to extend the lead to 82-71 with 1:47 left.

Memphis was sharp at the line down the stretch, and the Clippers returned to Los Angeles with a lot to consider.

“It’s tough to win on the road, you’ve got a lot of things against you,” Brand said. “If we were losing at home, I’d feel different about it, and coming into this [the last two games] we had won six out of seven.

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“But we have to look forward. We have to look ahead to not just being in the playoffs, but being prepared to do well in the playoffs.”


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