CLEVELAND — After two devastating losses, the Cleveland Cavaliers needed a breather.
They got it in the form of the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Cavs smashed the Bucks, 93-78, on Friday before 17,147 at Quicken Loans Arena.
“(It was a) good performance by our team, especially after the two losses,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said. “I thought our guys stepped up. We looked a little tired since we’ve got back from the West Coast trip.”
Most of the fans weren’t even settled in their seats when Brown called a timeout.
He jumped all over his players.
Brown didn’t want a replay of the Cavs’ last two losses.
“Our physicality wasn’t there,” Brown said. “I was more concerned with our defensive presence. They didn’t feel us. That was my message.”
The Cavs quickly ran off a 17-0 run and never trailed again. They limited the Bucks to 40.5 percent shooting from the field.
“Defense is going to win us games,” Cavs guard Kyrie Irving said. “We did a great job of competing.”
Swingman Khris Middleton had a team-high 13 points for the Bucks (8-34), who have now lost 10 of their last 11. Swingman Giannis Antetokounmpo added 10 points.
Center Anderson Varejao had a game-high 16 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals.
He converted 8-of-11 shots from the field, 4-of-4 in the third quarter when the Cavs (16-27) moved to a 71-55 advantage. Almost all his shots came on perimeter jumpers from the elbows.
Power forward Tristan Thompson recorded his 21st double-double of the season with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
Irving, who will start in the All-Star Game, posted his fifth double-double with 10 points, 10 assists and three rebounds. More importantly, Irving had no turnovers in 28 minutes.
“He’s making good decisions with the basketball,” Brown said.
Irving said he liked the energy in which the Cavs played.
“The last two games, we came out sluggish,” he said. “But tonight we took care of business.”
Milwaukee coach Larry Drew wasn’t thrilled with his team’s effort.
“I was expecting our guys to come out here with a little more firepower, particularly after an impressive win against Detroit (on Wednesday),” he said. “(The Cavs) were clearly the aggressor from start to finish. We didn’t play with a sense of urgency (in the second half), and that’s clearly on me. That’s my responsibility.”
The Cavs abused the Bucks on the boards, 52-34, including a 21-8 edge on the offensive glass.
“They really crash the offensive glass,” Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova said. “Thompson and Varejao, that’s their strengths. It’s all about finding guys and boxing them off. It’s all about effort.”
The Cavs are now 1-2 on their five-game homestand that concludes on Tuesday.
“I’ll take this every game,” Brown said. “It was great, listening to our guys talking on the bench. They were saying, ‘Keep taking care of business. Keep playing the right way.’ This is a good learning process for us.”
Brown said the defensive effort was spearheaded by Irving.
“Kyrie made Brandon Knight work tonight,” he said. “He did a nice job of trying to stay up in him.”
Knight was limited to just eight points on 4-of-12 shooting.
Guard Dion Waiters had 13 points for the Cavs, 10 in the second quarter. He had eight rebounds and three assists.
Backup center Tyler Zeller added eight points, nine assists and three blocks.
“He’s been playing out of his mind,” Irving said of the 7-footer. “He’s doing everything we’ve asked of him.”
The Bucks, who have the worst record in the NBA, was what the doctor ordered for the Cavs.
“After coming off two losses, our guys stepped up,” Brown said. “We’ve looked a little tired after the West Coast trip.”
NOTES: Cavaliers G Kyrie Irving is campaigning for an invitation to the 3-point shootout during All-Star weekend in New Orleans. “There have only been a few back-to-back champs,” Irving said. “If they ask me to come back, I’ll definitely come back.” … Irving was named a starter for the Eastern Conference All-Star Game and was among 28 players on Team USA’s national team on Thursday. “It’s a great honor to be part of the U.S. Olympic roster and being a starter,” he said. “It’s a dream come true, something I’ve dreamt about as a kid.” … Cavs C Anderson Varejao came into Friday’s game 15 rebounds shy of 4,000 in his career. … The Bucks have been going big with 6-10 Ekpe Udoh, 6-10 Ersan Ilyasova, 6-11 John Henson and 6-9 Giannis Antetokounmpo in the starting lineup. “It gives us more flexibility,” Bucks coach Larry Drew said. … Udoh sprained his right ankle in the second quarter and didn’t return. … Bucks G O.J. Mayo (virus) and C Larry Sanders (cold) aren’t completely healthy, but Drew said they’d play. … Drew’s son, Larry II, is playing for Sioux Falls in the D-League. He recently faced Antetokounmpo’s 6-7 brother, Thanasis, who is playing for Delaware. “(Thanasis is) a different player,” coach Drew said. “He’s really active. He’s athletic.”
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.