LOS ANGELES -- Kobe Bryant almost pulled a rabbit out of the hat one more time, but in what's become a recurring theme this season, he just didn't have enough support out there and the Lakers lost again.
The Clippers might have come into the night on a two-game losing streak, but they sure looked like the team that had won 17 straight.
The Lakers? For most of the game you could pick a negative adjective. Old. Lethargic. Haphazard. Disjointed. Mismatched. Overwhelmed.
But then out of nowhere, Bryant, who leads the NBA with a 7.9 points per game average in the fourth quarter, popped off with 16 points in the final frame to bring the Lakers within two points.
How it happened: The Lakers fell behind by 18 early on in the second quarter, and it seemed like whenever they'd make a run to cut it down to a three- or four-point game, as they did in the second and third quarters, the Clippers were able to quickly push it back up to double digits.
Chris Paul (30 points, 13 assists) was masterful and even squelched the Lakers last-ditch run late in the fourth by drawing a foul on Dwight Howard that got the Lakers' center out of the game. He hit two clutch free throws to double the Clips' lead from two to four with just more than a minute remaining. He followed it with a pull-up jumper to seal it with 19.9 seconds left.
Despite another great game individually from Kobe Bryant (38 points on 15-for-24 shooting), the Lakers never had much of a shot, allowing the Clippers to build too big of a lead to recover from.
What it means: It means the Clippers are unequivocally the best team in L.A., for starters. They took the first meeting of the season by 10, they took Friday by five and now they have 11 more wins than the Lakers through about the first 30 games.
It also means the Lakers continue to barely look like playoff contenders, much less a team in the title hunt at this point.
Hits: Dwight Howard played with the type of energy needed to succeed, finishing with 21 points, 15 rebounds and 2 blocks.
Misses: The old axiom states that shooters shoot, but Jodie Meeks' 3-for-13 night (including 2-for-8 from 3-point range) really got the Lakers off track in the early going.
Pau Gasol finished with just 2 points and 4 rebounds and was benched in the fourth quarter for the fourth time of the Mike D'Antoni era. He ended up playing the final 1:07 of the fourth because Howard fouled out, but it was clear that D'Antoni decided to go in a different direction late in this one.
Stat of the night: Metta World Peace and Gasol combined to shoot just 2-for-12 from the field.
Notes: D'Antoni switched up the starting lineup, going with World Peace in the first five and Darius Morris off the bench. With World Peace going back to the 3, Antawn Jamison made it back into the rotation as the backup 4, breaking his string of six straight DNP-CDs. ... The Clippers ended the first quarter with Matt Barnes, Ronny Turiaf, Caron Butler, Lamar Odom and Chris Paul on the court -- four former Lakers and Paul, who was a David Stern trade veto away from playing for the purple and gold, as well. ... Jordan Hill (13 points, 7 rebounds) left the game late with a Grade 1 sprain in his right ankle.
What's next: It doesn't get any easier for the Lakers. Their next four games are all against teams higher than them in the Western Conference standings -- Sunday at home against Denver, a road back-to-back in Houston and San Antonio on Tuesday and Wednesday and back at home against Oklahoma City on Friday. The Lakers have now lost three out of four games. If they lose another three of the next four -- a real possibility considering the difficulty of the schedule -- they'll be 16-20. Where's that panic button again?
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.