Tonight’s best game: Memphis at L.A. Clippers

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grizzlies small logoTwo teams separated by percentage points jostle for playoff position Saturday when the banged-up L.A. Clippers host the finally healthy Memphis Grizzlies at the Staples Center.

The outcome of this game is huge.

Memphis (25-20) and the Clippers (26-21) are fourth and fifth respectively in the tight Western Conference playoff race, but just half a game ahead of 9th seeded Denver.

The Clips have lost three straight games for the first time this season, falling three-and-a-half games behind the Pacific Division leading Lakers and putting head coach Vinny Del Negro in the hot seat.

The players publicly defended Del Negro after an embarrassing 97-90 loss to New Orleans on Thursday.

“We’re still behind him,” said Blake Griffin who led his team with 21 points. “We’ve got to find a way to put the fun back in it…where we were just going out and playing.”

It’s hard to have fun when this happens.

Jason Smith forgot which sport he was playing and will be suspended two games for his body check to Griffin, including Monday’s rematch at the Staples Center.

Mo Williams, the Clippers fourth-leading scorer (13.7), also sustained an injury. Luckily, an MRI revealed no significant damage to his big toe. He is listed as day to day.

L.A. can scarce lose another guard, going 11-14 since Chauncey Billups tore his Achilles’ tendon on February 6th.

The Grizzlies have won only one of their four games since the return of Zach Randolph, who missed 37 games due to a knee injury.

Memphis (25-20) leads the NBA with 10.1 steals and 17.7 forced turnovers a game but has allowed teams to average 107.6 points on 48 percent shooting in its last five.

The Clippers haven’t topped 100 points since March 9th (9 games). When they do top the century mark, L.A. is 16-3.

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