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No losers here? Grizzlies win, Clippers get home court

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) -- The Los Angeles Clippers hardly looked like a team trying to lose its way into a better playoff matchup.

The Clippers cut an 18-point deficit to three down the stretch Tuesday night before losing 101-95 to the Memphis Grizzlies.

For the loss, the Clippers' second in a row and fifth in seven games, they were rewarded with the sixth seed and home-court advantage against the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.

Meanwhile, the Grizzlies won for the seventh time in eight games, earned a 3-1 edge over the Clippers in the season series and assured themselves of a better overall record than Los Angeles with one game left.

Memphis earned the fifth seed, but the less enviable task of facing the fourth-seeded Dallas Mavericks in the first round.

"It was a bizarre game. I'll leave it at that," Memphis forward Shane Battier said.

In one of the league's most unusual late-season matchups, the Clippers did what was necessary to assure they got the sixth seed and opened the playoffs with home-court advantage against Denver, which is the Northwest Division champion and No. 3 seed in the West but has fewer victories than Los Angeles.

Despite the talk about the convoluted playoff picture, the Clippers showed down the stretch, even though it was done mostly with reserves, that they were hardly trying to lose.

"We didn't talk about it much," forward Walter McCarty said of the Clippers losing their way to the No. 6 seed. "We wanted to win this game, and we were trying to win it with the guys we had on the floor.

"We were playing down to the wire. If people think we were trying to throw games or whatever, they've really got it wrong."

Jake Tsakalidis scored 18 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while Lorenzen Wright finished with 17 points to lead the Grizzlies. Bobby Jackson scored 15 points for Memphis, while Battier added 12.

The Clippers cut Memphis's 18-point fourth-quarter lead to 96-93 when Daniel Ewing hit two free throws with 29.6 remaining.

However, a 3-pointer by Mike Miller with 11 seconds left put the game out of reach. As Jackson made two free throws with 4.5 seconds remaining, the Memphis crowd began standing and cheering for the Grizzlies in their home finale.

"We came in here with the resolution to win, and that's what we did," Battier said. "...We're trying to finish the season off strong."

James Singleton, who averages 3.1 points, led the Clippers with 23 points logging a season-high 45 minutes. Elton Brand had 17 points and eight rebounds. McCarty scored 12 points, including 10 in the first half, while Cuttino Mobley finished with 10 points.

Before the game, Memphis put leading scorer and rebounder Pau Gasol on the inactive list with a sore left foot. That allowed Hakim Warrick to start his first game of the season in Gasol's power forward spot.

The Clippers countered with a starting lineup that included Vin Baker, playing in his seventh game and his first start of the season, Shaun Livingston in place of Sam Cassell, and Singleton, starting his ninth game of the season.

Center Chris Kaman and Cassell, who normally start, never got their warmups off.

"Everywhere around the league you have teams resting guys that log major minutes," Brand said. "From Miami to Detroit to wherever. Memphis rested Pau Gasol. It's not that they are trying to lose. They are trying to prepare themselves for the best opportunity in the playoffs."

The Grizzlies built the lead to 18 in the first half based on the inside play of Wright and Tsakalidis. The pair of centers were a combined 9-for-13 from the field in the first half, with Wright scoring 11 points and Tsakalidis adding nine.

Also, Jackson had 12 points on four 3-pointers to help Memphis take a 51-33 lead into halftime.

McCarty, who entered the game with a 1.9-point average, had 10 points at halftime to lead Clippers.

Memphis extended the lead to 21 in the third period, but the Clippers put together a 14-2 run to get the margin under 10 at 69-60.

The Grizzlies with a 3-pointer by Brian Cardinal in the final seconds of the third period, carried a 76-65 in the fourth.

In Memphis's playoff runs the two previous years, the Grizzlies have limped in with 1-5 and 1-6 records down the stretch. This year seems to be different with Memphis having momentum.

"The last couple of years, we haven't played well going in and it showed," Memphis guard Mike Miller said. "If that doesn't work, you have to try something new. Our goal was to go in on a high note."

Game notes
Asked before the game about preparing for a Clippers team starting different players, Memphis coach Mike Fratello winked and said: "They don't know who we're playing, either." Then Gasol showed up on the bench in street clothes. ... Gasol grabbed the microphone before the game to thank fans for their support during the season. ... The Clippers have tied the franchise road record with 19 victories, a mark set by the 1974-75 Buffalo Braves. ... Brand reached double figures in all 79 games he's played this season. ... Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy was intense enough about the game to earn a third-quarter technical for arguing about officiating.