SACRAMENTO, Calif. — After an opening night stumble, the Sacramento Kings did the things that their coach anticipates seeing frequently this season.
Rudy Gay’s 40 points were a bonus.
The Kings forward put up the second-highest scoring effort of his career and Sacramento saved the game’s final surge for themselves in a 103-94 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers at Sleep Train Arena on Friday.
Even better for Sacramento coach Michael Malone: The Kings turned over the ball only 10 times and their defense held forward LaMarcus Aldridge to 22 points and the Blazers to 41 percent shooting while avoiding the team’s first 0-2 start at home in more than two decades.
“It’s amazing what happens,” Malone said, “when you don’t get careless with the basketball.”
The Kings finished with 27 turnovers and looked stagnant offensively in a season-opening 95-77 loss to the Golden State Warriors. That total surpassed their season high of 25 in 2013-14. The Warriors also scored on several easy shots in the second half in that one.
“Our ball movement and execution were much better,” Malone said. “Our defense was terrific.”
Gay was the primary beneficiary, canning 13 of 19 shots, including his first six. He also knocked down two free throws and made a 3-pointer after refs called Portland forward Nicolas Batum with an intentional in-the-path foul with just over seven minutes left in the fourth quarter.
“Rudy, at any given moment, is one of those players that can explode for 30, 40 points on any given night,” Sacramento guard Darren Collison said. “His athleticism, his ability to get to the paint, his ability to shoot the ball really well is what makes him really special.”
Gay’s five straight points after the intentional foul put Sacramento back in front 80-77, after Portland used a 19-6 run to erase a 69-58 deficit. Batun was called after stepping in front of Gay after he grabbed a defensive rebound and seemed to have an open court in front of him.
“It was a big call,” Gay said. “The biggest thing is that I was able to jump out (on defense) and be aggressive because I knew had help. We didn’t have that last year.”
Refs reviewed the foul call on replay for more than two minutes before finally concluding that the foul was intentional.
“The refs said it was a clear path, and it was a clear path,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “They don’t get a call wrong, when they look at the monitor.”
The Kings led 62-54 with 6:41 to go in the third quarter, when center DeMarcus Cousins left the game with his fourth foul. Sacramento briefly build its lead to 69-58, but Aldridge six points and guard Steve Blake knocked down a 3-pointers during a 13-2 Portland run that tied the game.
Cousins finished with 17 points and nine rebounds for Sacramento, and blocked shots on consecutive defensive possessions late in the fourth quarter to help cement the victory.
Aldridge, who scored 27 points in Portland’s impressive season-opening 106-89 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, converted just seven of 18 shots for the Portland and was harassed almost every time he touched the ball.
Portland guard Damian Lillard scored 20 points, guard Wesley Matthews had 16 and forward Chris Caman added 12. The Blazers did not score more than 24 points in any single quarter.
“We’re playing great defense,” Collison said. “That’s all we can ask for on any given night. We probably aren’t going to be consistent shooting-wise, but defensively, it has to be consistent. In the two games, the defense has been really good.”
Collison finished with 14 points, and forward Omri Casspi, back with the team that drafted him in 2009, added 10. Guard Ben McLemore, who kicked off his second NBA season by going scoreless in the Kings’ opener, didn’t make his first shot from the field until early in the third quarter and had seven points.
NOTES: The Kings’ last 0-2 start at home came in at the start of the 1997-98 season, when they opened up with three straight losses. Sacramento lost its first five home games during the 1990-91 season. … Portland G Damian Lillard scored a career-high 41 points on 13-for-24 shooting in Portland’s previous visit to Sacramento on Jan. 7, 2014. In the visit before that, he scored a career-low four points. … Sacramento’s 27 turnovers in the opener against Golden State surpassed its season-high total (25) from 2013-14. The Kings have never won (0-20) in their Sacramento history when turning it over that much. … Kings C DeMarcus Cousins, who entered the season as Sacramento’s all-time leader in double-doubles (53), averaged 33.3 points and 11.5 points in the Kings’ four games against Portland last season.
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.