Eric Bledsoe had nine points off the bench for the Clippers in L.A.'s… (Bill Haber / Associated…)
NEW ORLEANS — Every one of the Clippers claimed they were not looking past the New Orleans Hornets on Friday night and looking ahead to Saturday night's showdown at Memphis.
Still, it took the small three-guard lineup of 6-foot Chris Paul, 6-1 Eric Bledsoe and 6-5 Jamal Crawford and 6-7 Matt Barnes and 6-10 Blake Griffin at the forward positions for the Clippers to finally escape the Hornets, 96-93, at New Orleans Arena.
"Can't never look ahead," said Paul, who had 17 points and 14 assists to go along with seven rebounds. "It's all about the task at hand, and this not a bad team.… We just had to find a way to win it."
BOX SCORE: Clippers 96, New Orleans 93
By winning their fourth straight game, the Clippers helped set up a scramble in the Western Conference for the third, fourth and fifth seedings.
It's now more than just the fourth-seeded Clippers (53-26) playing the fifth-seeded Grizzlies (54-25) for home-court advantage if the two teams meet in the first round.
With the third-seeded Nuggets (54-25) losing at Dallas on Friday night, the Clippers are just one game behind Denver.
Denver and Memphis, which won at Houston, have the same records, but the Nuggets won the tiebreaker between the two teams.
If the Clippers win the final three regular-season games, they would finish no worse than fourth in the West and could have the home-court advantage over Memphis.
That's why Saturday night's game is so important.
"It's going to be a big game, arguably a first-round preview," said Barnes, who 16 points and 10 rebounds. "We want to finish strong. The positioning is still up in the air, so we want to come out tomorrow night and have a good showing."
It wasn't until Crawford (15 points), Bledsoe (nine points) and Barnes hooked up with Griffin (20 points) and Paul in the fourth quarter that the Clippers showed they had something.
"We just didn't have much energy tonight," Paul said. "That starts with me. I was dead early, and the same thing late. We came out of at timeout in that fourth quarter and we were down five and I was like, 'We've got to win this game.'"
That group cut a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter down to 81-79 with 3:33 left.
Crawford's three-pointer cut the deficit to 85-84 and Barnes' two free throws gave the Clippers an 86-85 lead with 1:32 left. Paul then scored for an 88-85 Clippers lead with 52.3 seconds left.
Paul missed a layup, but Bledsoe's tip-dunk gave the Clippers a 90-85 lead that the short-handed Hornets, who were playing without four key players, couldn't overcome.
"It was gut-check," Barnes said. "No matter what their record is, this is a tough team, with or without whoever is playing for them. We needed that win tonight."