SACRAMENTO — This was perhaps the worst loss of the season for the Clippers, and it could hardly have come at a worse time.
A 116-101 loss to the Sacramento Kings in which they were outscored 38-18 in the fourth quarter Tuesday night sent the Clippers tumbling in the standings.
They began the night at Sleep Train Arena as the third-seeded team in the Western Conference, but they left in fourth place, percentage points behind Memphis (45-21).
BOX SCORE: CLIPPERS AT KINGS
Not only that, the Clippers now have the fifth-best record (46-22) in the West, half a game behind the 47-22 Denver Nuggets .
"We're not playing well enough right now," Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said. "We're not guarding hard enough right now. We're not physically and mentally tough enough, especially when we have to be, in the fourth quarter. And that's definitely a concern."
Another concern for the Clippers: Chauncey Billups suffered a right groin strain early in the second quarter and didn't play the rest of the night.
Matt Barnes started the second half in Billups' place. But Billups' absence meant that Jamal Crawford (25 points) and Grant Hill had to run the show as point guards when Chris Paul (11 points on two-for-10 shooting, 15 assists and seven turnovers) left for a rest.
"I just tried to turn and hurt my groin," Billups said. "But I'll be all right."
The Kings' fourth-quarter surge exposed the Clippers' dismal three-point defense, a recurring problem. Sacramento made four consecutive three-pointers in a 1-minute 45-second stretch, turning a two-point edge into a 110-98 lead that spelled the end for the Clippers.
The Kings shot 50% (14 for 28) from behind the three-point line.
"It seems like every night teams shoot lights-out from the three on us," Paul said.
The Clippers also lacked composure down the stretch.
Lamar Odom was assessed a technical foul with 7:55 left and the score tied, 86-86. Barnes swore at fans in the stands. Paul yelled at DeMarcus Cousins while the Kings center was shooting free throws.
"Disappointed that we're not showing more resiliency," Del Negro said. "Just more resistance. We're going to have to address that as we move forward."
Down 94-93 with 4:46 left, the Kings intentionally fouled DeAndre Jordan, who sank one of two free throws to tie it — the one he made banking in.
The Kings did it again while holding a two-point lead with 4:15 left. This time Jordan missed both free throws. Del Negro took him out of the game with 3:43 left.
It was another issue the Clippers couldn't overcome.
"I was surprised they fouled me like that," Jordan said. "But I've just got to make my free throws."
Told that Del Negro wasn't happy with how the Clippers gave in, Paul agreed.
"He shouldn't be happy," Paul said. "We're not either. We've got to get better defensively. I think that's the biggest key. Last year we had something about us where we could just get stops when we needed to. And right now, I don't think we have the confidence that we need defensively."