CHARLOTTE, N.C. – When the Chicago Bulls put out an SOS for help at point guard, D.J. Augustin was there to answer the call.
Now, Augustin is playing some of the best basketball of his career.
Augustin continued his torrid play with 28 points, including 15 in the decisive fourth quarter, as the Bulls beat the Charlotte Bobcats 89-87 on Saturday night.
It came against the team that made him their first-round pick in the 2008 NBA Draft and capped a week in which he also scored 27 points each in wins over the Los Angeles Lakers and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Augustin spent four seasons with the Bobcats.
“It was just fun to go out there and win tonight,” Augustin said. “We go out there every night and fight as a team and just to get a win on the road against a tough team, it feels good. It’s always fun playing against your own team, so I’m just happy to come away with a win.”
Augustin was claimed off waivers from Toronto on Dec. 13 after point guard Derrick Rose was shelved with a knee injury. He has started the last six games while point guard Kirk Hinrich has been out with hamstring problems.
“He was a huge pickup for us because we had a need obviously with Derrick going down and then Kirk going down,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “And he had a need as well. So it was good for him and it’s been great for us. And he’s played better and better.
“The one thing that we knew because of the way he played here (in Charlotte), he was more than capable. For whatever reason, he wasn’t playing in Toronto, and it worked out for us. To his credit, he was ready when this opportunity came around. He hit the ground running. And it’s not just what he’s doing statistically, he’s also running our team very well.”
Augustin finished 9 of 19 from the field and 6 of 12 from 3-point range.
Three of the 3-pointers came in the fourth quarter. The Bulls led 57-55 going into the fourth and opened the quarter with a 10-2 run to push the lead to 10. They then kept the lead in double figures much of the quarter and still led by nine with 13.8 seconds left.
The Bobcats hit three 3-pointers in the final seven seconds, including one at the buzzer by center Al Jefferson, but Augustin’s two free throws with 2.7 seconds left made the shot at the buzzer meaningless.
“I just let the game come to me in the fourth quarter,” Augustin said. “We didn’t change anything. We just kept playing. We just kept running our pick-and-roll stuff and kept playing on defense, and it came out well.”
The Bulls also got 13 points from forward Taj Gibson and 12 points from forward Mike Dunleavy. Center Joakim Noah finished with 11 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, just two assists from his fourth career triple-double.
Thibodeau was particularly pleased that the Bulls (22-21) bounced back from a 17-point home loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night.
“This team is great,” Thibodeau said. “We talked about what happened last night and what we had to do today. That’s the best part about this team. They have great pride. They’re going to bounce back. They’re going to give you everything they have. For us, we’ve just got to keep scratching out wins and we can never lose sight of how hard we have to play in order to have a chance to win, particularly when you’re short-handed.”
For the Bobcats (19-27), it was another familiar script — a close loss that negated another outstanding effort by Jefferson.
Jefferson finished with 32 points and 13 rebounds, marking the ninth straight game in which he has scored 20 or more.
“For these last eight or nine games, nobody’s been better than him,” Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said. “He’s rebounding, scoring, he’s efficient, and he’s making the right plays.”
Jefferson, who missed nine games early in the season with an ankle injury, said he is now feeling fully healthy.
“I’ve been in the league a long time and I know when I’m healthy I play at this level,” he said. “At the beginning of the season, I wasn’t healthy. But I’m feeling really good, my ankle’s feeling really good, and this is what I can do when I’m 100 percent.”
The Bobcats also got 15 points from guard Jannero Pargo and 11 points from guard Gerald Henderson.
NOTES: This was the third game between the teams this season. The Bulls won the previous two, 86-81 on Nov. 18 and 103-97 on Jan. 11 in Chicago. … The Bobcats are without G Kemba Walker (sprained left ankle), F Jeffery Taylor (ruptured Achilles) and C Brendan Haywood (stress fracture left foot). … The Bobcats head out on a four-game West Coast trip starting Wednesday at Denver. They also play the Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors on the trip. … The Bulls return home to face the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday, then head out on a six-game trip with games at San Antonio, New Orleans, Sacramento, Phoenix, Golden State and the Lakers.
Rockets spoil Griffin’s return in testy affair
If James Harden needed any extra motivation against the Los Angeles Clippers, he found it in the first half.
Harden scored 34 points, and the Rockets held on for a 100-98 victory over the Clippers in a sometimes testy affair on Sunday at Staples Center.
Point guard Chris Paul, who finished with 23 points, missed a contested shot at the buzzer that would have forced overtime.
“It was very important for us just to go out there and play well,” said Harden, who hit seven of 16 shots from the floor, three of five from 3-point range and 17 of 18 free throws. “The last two games we kind of struggled a little bit, but we got our pop back a little bit today, and it was a good win for us.”
Harden provided much of that pop, particularly in the second quarter after Clippers forward Matt Barnes was whistled for a flagrant-1 foul after pushing Harden to the court at 6:02. Harden scored 15 of his 18 points in the period after that, leading the Rockets to a 58-50 halftime lead.
Did the flagrant foul add more fuel for the Rockets’ All-Star guard and MVP candidate?
“Yeah. Things like that are fun,” said Harden, who had 24 points in the first half. “We have fun, we got boosted off of that.”
The win ended a two-game skid for the Rockets (44-22). Houston forward Trevor Ariza scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while forward Terrence Jones added 16 points and 12 boards.
“This was a win that we needed, especially on the road,” Ariza said. “Going into the home stretch, these are the types of games we have to win.”
Los Angeles forward Blake Griffin returned after missing 15 games due to surgery on his right elbow. Griffin had 11 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, but committed five turnovers in 41 minutes.
“I didn’t think I played well,” said Griffin, who managed 4-of-10 shooting. “I was out of rhythm. Way too many turnovers, obviously.”
Barnes scored 19 points and guard J.J. Redick had 15 for the Clippers (42-24), who fell into a tie for the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference standings with the Dallas Mavericks.
Paul lamented a host of turnovers in the defeat, including a critical one involving center DeAndre Jordan.
“I had some bad turnovers,” said Paul, who committed three of the Clippers’ 20 miscues compared to 13 for the Rockets. “On one, I drove it off DeAndre’s foot, the other one I lost towards the end of the half. We have to take better care of the ball. We still had an opportunity to win, but we just didn’t do it.”
The Clippers came back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit. Paul scored seven straight points, capping it with a 3-point basket to tie the score at 96 with 3:05 left in the game. Houston got a 3-pointer by Jones, but Barnes countered with a basket to keep Los Angeles within 99-98 with 1:35 left. Los Angeles, though, never scored again.
Griffin got a steal as Ariza attempted a pass to Harden, but Ariza drew a charging foul as Griffin bolted to the bucket with 12 seconds remaining. Griffin remained unhappy about the call after the game.
“If I speak on that, I’ll get fined,” Griffin said.
Harden hit one of two foul shots with 8.9 seconds left, capping the scoring before Paul failed to connect on a jumper in the lane with Ariza defending.
The Rockets outscored Los Angeles 36-20 in the second quarter despite making just 38.5 percent of their shots compared to 44.4 percent for the Clippers. Overall, the Clippers hit 43.9 percent to 37.2 percent for the Rockets. They also held an edge in 3-point shooting, converting 12 of 26 attempts to seven of 30 for Houston. The Rockets, though were 29 of 36 from the foul line to 14 of 24 for Los Angeles.
Jordan finished with 20 rebounds and four blocks.
NOTES: F Blake Griffin’s return benefits PG Chris Paul as much as any Clipper. “Teams have been able to trap (Paul) far more than they can when Blake is on the floor because of (Griffin’s) ability to pass,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I’m sure CP is the happiest of all to have him back.” … Rivers isn’t sure if injured G Jamal Crawford would return before the playoffs. Crawford has missed six games with a right calf contusion. … Rockets C Dwight Howard sat out his 18th game with a right knee edema. “He’s doing everything he can, he’s trying to get better, but until you’re on the floor, it’s impossible to say,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said regarding Howard’s return. … Both clubs resume play Tuesday. Houston hosts the Orlando Magic, while Los Angeles plays the Charlotte Hornets at Staples Center.
Spurs’ Ginobili sprains ankle
SAN ANTONIO — Guard Manu Ginobili was helped off the floor late in the third quarter of the San Antonio Spurs’ game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday due to a sprained right ankle.
Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points. He was immediately was led to the locker room, and he did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court. He did not return to the game.
In 19 minutes during the Spurs’ 123-97 win over the Timberwolves, Ginobili scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday and leading him to play limited minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday.
NBA notebook: Clippers’ Griffin cleared to return
Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin, out the last 15 games with an elbow injury, was cleared to return Sunday against the Houston Rockets.
Griffin had surgery five weeks ago to remove a staph infection in his right elbow.
“He said, ‘I’m ready,'” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before Sunday’s game. “Yesterday the trainers called me and said, ‘If he can go, he can go. He’s been cleared.'”
Rivers said timing likely will be an adjustment for Griffin.
“Timing is timing,” Rivers said. “You lose it when you don’t play in an NBA game. Sometimes you come back and you play great the first game and then you lose your timing. Sometimes it doesn’t. As far as the way we play, it won’t be hard for him at all.”
In 51 games this season, Griffin is averaging 22.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists.
–Spurs guard Manu Ginobili had to be helped off the floor late in the third quarter against Minnesota on Sunday. Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points.
He was helped off the floor and immediately was led to the locker room. He did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court.
Up to that point, Ginobili had scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting in 19 minutes. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against Toronto and play limited minutes against Cleveland on March 12.
–Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr sent emails to three fans who were disappointed that he rested several prominent players, including All-Star guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, in Friday’s loss to the Nuggets in Denver.
“There’s two really good sides to the story,” Kerr said, according to the Associated Press report. “Nobody’s wrong here. … I can’t argue with them.”
Kerr received an email from a family that drove from South Dakota to Denver to see Curry, Thompson and the entertaining Warriors play. But Curry, Thompson, center Andrew Bogut and reserve guard Andre Iguodala did not play so they could be rested, and the Warriors lost 114-103.
“I heard from some fans. I received a few emails, stories about driving in from a long distance off and spending a lot of money on tickets,” Kerr said. “I have great sympathy for those people. I really do. It’s a tricky one. It’s something that I think Adam Silver is trying to address through the scheduling shuffling that he’s talking about.
–The Dallas Mavericks recalled center/forward Dwight Powell from the Texas Legends of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
The 6-foot-11, 240-pound Powell played in one game during his most recent assignment to the D-League and finished with 28 points, five rebounds and two assists to lead the Legends in a 115-89 win over the Austin Spurs on Saturday night.
Powell has appeared in 19 games for the Mavericks this season, averaging 3.5 points and 2.2 rebounds in 10.0 minutes per game.
–The Atlanta Hawks signed forward Austin Daye to a 10-day contract Sunday.
Daye appeared in 26 games (four starts) earlier this season with the San Antonio Spurs, averaging 4.0 points and 2.3 rebounds in 10.3 minutes.
In 10 games this season with the Erie BayHawks of the NBA Development League, Daye has averaged 16.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.1 blocks in 28.5 minutes.
–The Miami Heat recalled guard Zoran Dragic from the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
Zoran appeared in four games (one start) and averaged 16.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.50 steals, helping the Skyforce to a 3-1 record over that span.