CHARLOTTE, N.C. — For the Charlotte Hornets, it may be a case of addition by subtraction.
The Hornets won their third straight without injured guard Lance Stephenson on Monday night as they
The Hornets never trailed, leading by as many as 23 points in the first half and by 30 in the second half on a night when they shot 53.8 percent from the field.
It was the third straight impressive performance since Stephenson — who signed a three-year, $27 million free-agent contract last summer — went out with what the team is terming a pelvic strain.
“That was the best game we’ve played, obviously, from start to finish,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “We had good readiness and purpose. We’ve had three games now where we’ve cut down on mistakes and our execution has been better. Our purpose, and our play, has really been good.”
Clifford was cautious when asked if it was a coincidence that the Hornets have started playing their best basketball of season since Stephenson went down. The 6-foot-5 guard has had a hard time fitting into flow offensively throughout his time in Charlotte, and the Hornets have actively tried to trade him in recent weeks without any takers.
The Hornets (9-19) had lost 14 of their previous 16 before Stephenson was sidelined. They had not won a game by more than nine points all season before this streak, and now they have won the last three games by an average of 21.3 points.
“I’m looking at it and saying, as talented as he is, and I think he’s playing well, too, then what can we become playing like this playing with him also,” Clifford said. “What things are good that he can add to our team when we’re playing this way, who should he be on the floor with, and things like that. I think that’s what we have to figure out when he comes back. That’s when you have a chance to maximize your roster.”
Center Al Jefferson led the Hornets with 22 points in just 26 minutes, sitting out the entire fourth quarter. He had 18 in the first half, and finished 10 of 13 from the field.
The Hornets also got 18 points and nine assists from guard Kemba Walker, 13 points from guard Gary Neal, and 10 points each from guard P.J. Hairston and forward Cody Zeller. Hairston also had 10 rebounds for the first double-double of his career.
“We’re just executing better and playing some great defense, taking advantage of our opportunities,” Walker said. “I think we’ve become more conscious of playing through Al these last three games, early and often, and we’re just making plays.”
The Nuggets (12-16) didn’t put up much of a fight on either end of the court. They fell behind 11-2 right off the bat and it only got worse. The Hornets led 28-18 after one quarter, 56-33 late in the second, and 84-57 after three.
The Nuggets shot just 37.8 percent from the field and were two of 18 from 3-point range. Guard Ty Lawson scored 18 and forward Alonzo Gee added 15, but they were the only Nuggets in double figures.
“I don’t know what to say,” Denver coach Brian Shaw said. “You have eyes, you saw it. It was an ugly, nasty game. We just have to flush it down the toilet and get ready for tomorrow night’s game in Brooklyn and hope that we can salvage this two-game road trip.”
The Nuggets had a two-game winning streak snapped.
“We didn’t do anything defensively,” Shaw said. “We didn’t reach any of our defensive goals. I don’t think we kept them under 24 or 25 for any of the quarters tonight. It started with the first play of the game. We don’t have a go-to guy that’s going to get 40 and keep us in a game like this. We’re not good enough to not come out and not play desperate, especially on the defensive end. The team that scores 95 points gets 110 tonight and gets to play all their guys. I guess we got to play all our guys, too, but in a different fashion.”
NOTES: The Nuggets were without F Danilo Gallinari, who suffered a torn right meniscus in a 76-73 win over Indiana on Saturday. Gallinari underwent surgery on Monday and will miss at least three weeks. Also out were G Randy Foye (right vastus lateralis strain), F Darrell Arthur (left peroneals strain) and C JaVale McGee (strained left lower leg). … The Nuggets are now 11-1 when they outshoot opponents from the field, and 1-15 when they are outshot by opponents. … Nuggets G Ty Lawson came into the game second in the NBA in assists at 10.7, but had no assists in the first half and finished with only four. … The Hornets will play at Milwaukee on Tuesday.
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.