ATLANTA — Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer was familiar with Paul Millsap from the years both spent in the NBA’s Western Conference, Budenholzer as an assistant coach at San Antonio and Millsap as a player for the Utah Jazz.
But Budenholzer didn’t realize the depth of Millsap’s abilities until he was named head coach at Atlanta and Millsap joined the team as a free agent. He’s gained a new appreciation from watching Millsap play every night.
“I don’t think the whole league, the East, the West, all of us maybe didn’t appreciate Paul for everything he’s doing the last year and a half,” Budenholzer said. “When you’re around somebody like Paul every day, you see the different things he does on both ends of the court. I didn’t realize Paul could do this much.”
Millsap, a 6-foot-8 forward, made his case for a second straight appearance in the NBA All-Star Game on Wednesday when he scored 28 points and grabbed 15 rebounds to help the Hawks to their 17th consecutive victory, a 113-102 win over the Brooklyn Nets.
Millsap topped 20 points for the third straight game and finished just two points shy of his season high. He made a career-high 15 of 16 from the free-throw line. Millsap was 5-for-8 from the field, including 3-for-5 on 3-pointers.
Atlanta (38-8) has won 31 of its last 33 games and improved to 15-0 in January. The winning streak is tied for the 14th longest in NBA history.
The Hawks also got 20 points and 10 rebounds from center Al Horford, who picked up his eighth double-double of the year and second in three games. It was the 182nd double-double of his career, moving him past Dikembe Mutombo for ninth place on the club’s all-time list.
Atlanta also got 17 points from guard Kyle Korver, who made five 3-pointers. Point guards Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder each scored 13 points and forward DeMarre Carroll added 12. Teague had 11 assists and surpassed 2,000 for his career.
Brooklyn (18-27) was led by guard Joe Johnson, who had 26 points against his old teammates. Center Brook Lopez scored 18 points and guard Alan Anderson bounced back from a scoreless appearance in his last game with 15 points. Forward Mason Plumlee and guard Jarrett Jack each scored 14.
“I thought we competed and played well,” said Brooklyn coach Lionel Hollins, whose team lost its third straight. “We made shots and gave ourselves a chance. It was a good game.”
Brooklyn seized the momentum early and raced to a 13-5 lead on Plumlee’s running dunk. The Nets maintained control and led 21-13 with 4:30 left in the first quarter on guard Jack’s floating jumper.
That’s when the Hawks took over. Atlanta went on an 11-2 run and took the lead on a 3-point basket by guard Dennis Schroder. The Hawks closed the quarter with a pair of 3-pointers by Korver and led 30-27 after one period.
“Brooklyn competed and gave us some problems,” Budenholzer said. “They put us in some tough spots defensively.”
Brooklyn wouldn’t let Atlanta pull away and the game was tied five different times in the second quarter before the Hawks went on a 9-0 run. A pair of free throws by center Pero Antic gave Atlanta a 52-44 lead with 4:33 left. Atlanta went on to stretch the lead to 64-53 at halftime.
“The second quarter has been good on a number of nights when we’ve been able to make a push before halftime,” Budenholzer said.
Brooklyn tried to get back into the game in the third quarter, once cutting the lead to 73-69. But Korver responded with a 3-pointer and the Nets never got closer than four the rest of the game.
“Unfortunately we couldn’t get the stops we needed down the stretch,” Hollins said. “You look at Millsap and Horford and what they do and that’s why they’ve won 17 in a row. They produce every night.”
NOTES: Atlanta G Dennis Schroder was chosen to participate in the Rising Stars Challenge during the NBA All-Star weekend. The second-year player is averaging 8.1 points and 3.3 assists in 17.7 minutes per game. … Brooklyn had not played in Atlanta since 2013. Last year, the home game for Atlanta in the series was played in London. … Inactive for Atlanta were G Shelvin Mack (left calf strain) and C Adreian Payne. Mack has missed five games but might be ready to play Friday. Inactive for Brooklyn were F Deron Williams (fractured rib cartilage) and F Mirza Teletovic (pulmonary embolus). Teletovic remains in Los Angeles, where he was diagnosed with multiple blood clots in the lungs on Jan. 22. Once he is cleared for travel, he will return to Brooklyn for treatment. … Atlanta plays again on Friday night at home against Portland. Brooklyn returns home on Friday to face Toronto.
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.