SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Sacramento Kings coach Michael Malone had a familiar message for his team before the opening tip Monday. He will be all too happy to repeat it over and over if the results turn out as they did after his latest refrain.
“I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but we had five guys defend as one most of the night,” Malone said after his team held the Chicago Bulls to 28 percent shooting in a 99-70 rout at Sleep Train Arena that snapped Sacramento’s seven-game losing streak. “That’s how we have to play.”
The Kings welcomed back center DeMarcus Cousins from a six-game absence caused by an ankle injury, and he overwhelmed Chicago with 25 points and 16 rebounds while playing 34 minutes.
The big key, though, was Sacramento’s defense. The Bulls made just 22 of 78 shots from the field, managed a combined 25 points in the first and fourth quarters and trailed by as many as 30 points in the final quarter.
Chicago entered the contest ranked 29th among the 30 NBA teams in scoring.
“It’s a make-or-miss league,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “You’ve got to be able to deal with it when you’re not shooting the ball well. … We didn’t shoot it well, and we didn’t defend well.”
Cousins, whose six-game layoff was his longest in his four NBA seasons, recorded his 29th double-double of the season.
“To be honest, after missing 10 days and seven days, I wasn’t sure what to expect,” Malone said of Cousins. “It’s great to have him back. He makes us a very different team, obviously.”
Cousins had 11 points and seven rebounds as the Kings jumped to a 24-12 lead after the opening period. He did so despite the fact that he said his conditioning wasn’t nearly what it was before the injury.
“I probably shouldn’t have been playing, but I’m not the kind of guy to let nagging injuries get in my way,” Cousins said. “I was about to pass out in the first quarter, but I’ve been bouncing off all the walls in here with all the energy I’ve had.”
Guard Isaiah Thomas added 19 points and forward Rudy Gay collected 14 for Sacramento, which was held below 100 points at home for the second straight contest after reaching the figure in their previous 13 at home.
Guard Jimmer Fredette added 11 points off the bench for the Kings (16-32).
The Kings, ranked 28th in the NBA in scoring defense (104.6 points per contest entering the game) and 30th in opponents’ field-goal percentage (46.9 percent), suffocated Chicago from the outset. The Bulls made just four of 19 shots in the opening quarter and were outrebounded 19-7 in the same frame. Chicago made just 10 of 41 shots in the opening half.
Chicago (23-24) finished 4-for-20 on 3-point attempts.
“We tried to pack in the defense and make them shoot jump shots,” Fredette said. “We had success doing that.”
Guard Jimmy Butler scored 17 points to pace Chicago, which was held to its lowest point total in a regular-season game since Feb. 21, 2013. Chicago was held to 12 points in the first quarter and managed only 13 in the final period.
Forward Taj Gibson and guard Tony Snell were the only other Bulls players in double figures, each scoring 11.
Bulls forward Joakim Noah finished with just four points and four rebounds before being ejected after picking up his second technical foul with 7:40 remaining in the third quarter.
NOTES: Kings C DeMarcus Cousins received his NBA-leading 12th technical foul in the third quarter and noted the “chippy” atmosphere on the floor between the teams. Cousins seemed to have an ongoing spat with Chicago F Mike Dunleavy during the game and afterward called Dunleavy “a clown.” … Bulls F Carlos Boozer expressed to Chicago reporters before the game his frustration at coach Tom Thibodeau’s rotation pattern in the fourth quarter, which often has left Boozer on the bench late in games. Boozer did not play in the final quarter in Chicago’s previous two contests. … Bulls G Kirk Hinrich returned to the starting lineup and G D.J. Augustin came off the bench. Hinrich was playing his third game since returning from an injured right hamstring. … Joakim Noah is only the second Bulls center ever to be named to two consecutive All-Star teams. Artis Gilmore was the other one. … The Bulls’ 11-4 mark in January was the NBA’s best.
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.