PHOENIX — It was a night of firsts for Phoenix guard Goran Dragic: His first 40-point night in the NBA and the first time Suns fans at US Airways Center serenaded him at the free-throw line with a special chant:
It’s a little early for such chatter, but over the last 13 games, Dragic certainly reached a new level.
Friday he set a career high for points for fourth time in his last 13 games with 40, rallied the Suns from a 10-point deficit in the third quarter and keyed a 17-1 run in the fourth to outlast the New Orleans Pelicans 116-104.
“It was great to hear that, I would never have imagined they would cheer that for me,” said Dragic, who scored a career-best 35 points against Houston on Sunday before suffering a sprained right ankle Tuesday and sitting out Wednesday’s loss at Utah. “I heard that then I was here when (two-time MVP) Steve (Nash) was here. It’s a great feeling when the whole crowd stood up … it’s something special that I’m probably going to remember my whole life.”
Dragic’s ankle was still sore Friday morning and he was a game-time decision, but hit 14 of 21 shots from the floor and added five assists as the Suns snapped a three-game losing streak and moved 1 1/2 games ahead of Memphis for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
“Goran was special tonight,” said guard Ish Smith, who added 10 points and six assists while teaming with Dragic during the big second-half runs. “I told him after the Utah game, I played 36 minutes when he was out and was so tired. I don’t know how he does it. I was happy to be a part of it.
“Sometimes you can create something for him and sometimes you just give him the ball and get the heck out of the way.”
Forwards Marcus Morris and Markieff Morris combined for 33 points off the bench. Marcus Morris keyed a 12-2 run to end the third period to get the Suns back in the game. The Suns tied a season-low with 86 points against the Jazz, but points were not a problem with Dragic back.
He was the first Sun to score 40 points in a game since Amar’e Stoudemire had 44 almost four years ago (March 19, 2010 against Utah).
“We needed that game,” Dragic said after the Suns had dropped back-to-back games to sub. 500 teams in Minnesota and Utah. “If we want to be a playoff team we have to beat those guys and team like Atlanta (on Sunday).”
Forward Anthony Davis scored 30 points and guard Eric Gordon added 21 for the Pelicans, who lost their sixth straight game coming out of the All-Star break. They have now lost seven of their last eight on the road.
“I felt like we had control of the game, we just couldn’t keep the ball under control,” New Orleans coach Monty Williams said. “Dragic was in our paint all night long. He’s a really good player, but we could have done a better job.”
The Pelicans had a 10-point third-quarter lead wiped out by a 12-2 Phoenix run in the final 2:39. New Orleans still led 91-89 when guard Brian Roberts hit a 5-foot running bank shot with 9:47 left in the game, but Dragic started the winning run with a layup and banked in a 3-pointer from 25 feet before capping the 17-1 rally to make it 105-94 Suns with 4:13 left.
“It all started with Dragic,” Davis said. “He was in our paint scoring and we started worrying about him and laving guys open.”
NOTES: G Tyreke Evans made his first start as a Pelican, but he almost did not get to the game. Evans was trapped in a broken elevator at the team hotel and was left behind as the team headed to arena. He arrived less than an hour before tipoff. … G Goran Dragic returned to the Phoenix lineup after missing one game with a sprained right ankle. … The Pelicans announced Friday that G Jrue Holiday underwent successful surgery to correct a stress fracture in his right tibia. He is done for the season. … The Suns lost by double digits for the only the fifth time this season on Wednesday night at Utah. After the previous four blowout losses, the Suns rebounded to win the next game. … Pelicans F Anthony Davis is on pace to be the first player to average at least 20 points (20.2), 10 rebounds (10.2) and three blocks (3.0) in the same season since C Shaquille O’Neal for the Los Angeles Lakers in 1999-2000.
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.