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Clippers lose a game they needed, and Chris Paul is hurting

Their 109-102 loss to Atlanta ends hopes of catching the Lakers and keeps them from clinching home court against Memphis in the playoffs.

April 24, 2012|By Broderick Turner

ATLANTA — Chris Paul limped out of the Clippers' training room Tuesday night, his mild left groin strain causing as much pain as his team's inexplicable performance against the Atlanta Hawks.

He took the blame for the Clippers' 109-102 loss to the Hawks at Philips Arena, saying it was his job to have his teammates ready for a game that had so much importance.

Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro was upset his team didn't play better, knowing it would have clinched at least fourth place in the West and the home-court advantage over the Memphis Grizzlies, whom they now will face in a first-round Western Conference playoff series. A victory also would kept alive the Clippers' chances of overtaking overtake the Lakers for third place in the West.

Now the Clippers need to beat New York on Wednesday night in their regular-season finale or hope Memphis loses to Orlando on Thursday to host the playoff opener against the Grizzlies at Staples Center this weekend.

And the Clippers will need to do it with Paul not being 100%.

He had 34 points against the Hawks and Blake Griffin scored 36, his season high.

The Clippers official listed Paul as questionable for Wednesday.

"I'm all right," Paul said. "At some point, something didn't feel right, but I'll be OK. I'll be ready to go as soon as they throw that all up."

Asked to rate his team's effort, Del Negro wasn't OK with it.

"From the start, I didn't think we were hungry," Del Negro said. "I didn't think we were physical. I don't think we played hard enough."

The Hawks were up for the challenge, knowing they needed to beat the Clippers and Orlando for a chance to clinch home-court advantage against Boston in the playoffs. Atlanta got 28 points from Joe Johnson to make sure it had a chance to start the playoffs at home.

The Clippers can't overtake the Lakers because they are one game behind and lost the season series, 2-1.

"It's unfortunate because you'd think we'd come out with a little more of a sense of urgency knowing how big this game was. It was a big game for them, too," Paul said. "I take that responsibility. That's my fault for allowing us to come out that flat. But, I guess we just made it real interesting."

It was the Clippers as a team who played such poor defense, allowing the Hawks to make 50% of their shots, 45.8% (11 for 24) of their three-pointers.

It was the Clippers as a team who got outrebounded, 42-35. It was the Clippers as a team who fell behind by 13 points in the fourth quarter.

It was the Clippers as a team who waited until the fourth quarter to make a push, shooting 50% from the field, pressuring the Hawks just enough to get to within four points late.

"It starts with me," Paul said. "If I come out and let us do that, then it's my fault. So I've got to do better.

"It was not complacency. It's just probably lack of focus, of which we had talked about all day, all before the game. It was one of those things where we talked about it but we weren't proactive with the situation."

Because the Clippers (40-25) won the season series, 2-1, over the Grizzlies, they would get home court over Memphis in the playoffs even if the teams finish the season with the same record.

Memphis (40-25) finishes at home against the Magic.

"Memphis it is, then," Paul said. "Tomorrow we've got to win so we make sure we have home court. The good thing about it is we still control our own destiny."

broderick.turner@latimes.com

twitter.com/BA_Turner

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