INDIANAPOLIS — Goran Dragic and the Phoenix Suns don’t mind skeptics who wait for the clock to strike midnight on a Cinderella season.
After their latest win, it’s getting more and more difficult to cast the Suns’ stunning success as a mirage.
Left off the All-Star team, Dragic, a dynamic point guard playing the best ball of his career, had 28 points and seven assists to lead the high-flying Suns to a 102-94 win over the Indiana Pacers on Thursday night.
Having beaten league-leading Indiana twice in eight days, Phoenix’s fairy tale is only gaining steam, perhaps finally convincing the NBA world that the Suns are for real.
“If I’m honest, I don’t care,” Dragic said. “I know what we can do. We are a family. Sooner or later people will recognize.”
Guard Gerald Green, who scored 16 points in front of jeering fans who rooted him on last season, said Phoenix wasn’t looking for a statement road victory to change the conversation.
“We’re not out here looking for respect or demanding respect,” Green said.
Still, after sweeping a four-game road trip against the Eastern Conference and handing Indiana its second home loss, the Suns just might get it.
“Feels good,” said Dragic, whose swollen left elbow — red and inflamed after the game — did not.
His dominance orchestrating an up-tempo attack provided Phoenix a 19-point lead early in the second quarter, and his teammates made clutch plays to hold off the Pacers’ second-half charge.
Indiana (35-10) missed 14 of 15 3-pointers and committed 15 turnovers as its 10-game home winning streak was snapped in surprising fashion.
“They outplayed us,” said center Roy Hibbert, who had 26 points and six rebounds.
Guard Lance Stephenson led the Pacers with 14 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds, giving him an NBA-best four triple-doubles. Forward David West scored 18 points and point guard George Hill added 17 as Indiana placed all five starters in double figures.
The Pacers made a 27-11 run that began on West’s layup with 10 1/2 minutes left in the third and ended when guard C.J. Watson scored on the first possession of the fourth quarter.
The rally never drew them even, leaving Indiana with its third loss in five games.
“Those guys battled,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. “That’s when you have to have some guys with guts to make plays. That’s what I’m proud of.”
While the Pacers’ bench floundered, Phoenix received second-unit boosts from forwards and twin brothers Marcus (16 points) and Markieff Morris (15). The Suns shot 42.9 percent from the field but made 8-of-17 3s.
Markieff Morris stroked a trey that gave Phoenix a 98-92 lead with just under 3 minutes left.
Phoenix blew out the Pacers at the US Airways Center 124-100 last week, scoring 62 points in each half. On Thursday, in a building where the home team had been nearly unbeatable, the Suns had 66 points by halftime, the most Indiana has allowed in any half all season.
Guard Leandro Barbosa canned a buzzer-beating 3 to give Phoenix a 36-19 lead after the first quarter. The Suns took a 19-point lead on five separate possessions in the second quarter, the last when Marcus Morris’ jumper made it 64-45 with 1:20 left. Phoenix settled for a 66-49 halftime edge.
“Too much to overcome,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said.
The Pacers sliced their deficit to 77-74 entering the final frame, with the big difference coming when forward Paul George asked to cross-match onto Dragic after halftime. His defense limited Dragic to seven points and two assists in the second half.
But Phoenix found other methods of production to hold on, closing the game on an 11-4 run after two free throws from Hill had made it 91-90 with 4:20 remaining.
“Suns basketball is team-oriented,” Green said. “We’re not about stats. We’re about making each other better. That’s why we’re successful.”
Few expected that. Rookie general manager Ryan McDonough turned over the roster, and Phoenix was viewed as a team destined for the lottery. In sixth-place in the Western Conference standings, the Suns are playing like a legitimate contender, even with star guard Eric Bledsoe sidelined since Jan. 2.
“For a team that’s trying to prove themselves, to come in and beat a great team on their court is big for us,” Hornacek said.
NOTES: The NBA announced during the game that Pacers C Roy Hibbert was selected as a reserve on the Eastern Conference All-Star team. Fans voted in Pacers F Paul George as a starter, giving Indiana two All-Stars for the sixth time. “This is more about the team and what we’ve accomplished,” Hibbert said in a release distributed by the team. The Suns did not have a player selected to the Feb. 16 exhibition in New Orleans. … Phoenix owns the three highest-scoring halves of the season against the Pacers’ defense. … The Suns were playing their fourth game in five nights, while Indiana returned home on Wednesday from a five-game West Coast road trip.
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.