ORLANDO, Fla. — Even the great ones need a wake-up call sometimes.
LeBron James used a heated exchange in the third period with unheralded forward Tobias Harris — and the subsequent double technical foul — to ignite his game and lead the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 98-89 victory over the Orlando Magic on Friday night.
James scored 29 points, including 15 in the fourth quarter when brought the Cavaliers back to life and put a quick end to any thoughts of a Magic upset.
The Magic (11-21) had led by 10 points in the second period and nine points in the third before James shifted the Cavaliers into a higher gear.
“I was in the chill mode before, but the chill mode was deactivated after that, absolutely,” James said. “I have zero problem with him (Harris). I don’t know what problem he has with me.”
The incident came with 5:27 remaining in the third after James had missed a 3-pointer and the Magic corralled the rebound. The two started talking, words grew heated and others separated the two when the technical was called.
“I know we got into a little talking, but that’s just part of the game,” Harris said. “I’m not going to back down from anyone. That’s my game.”
Neither would say afterward exactly what was said, or why they said it.
James immediately followed the incident with a steal and a 3-point play for the 65-64 lead.
“It might have fired him up a little bit,” Cavs coach David Blatt said. “But LeBron came to play. He’s great all the time. He’s the best player in the world. It’s what he does. When he decides to lift us, he lifts us.”
James scored the last eight points for the Cavs in the final 3:08, making sure they held the lead.
Forward Kevin Love had 22 points and seven rebounds, although didn’t play in the fourth quarter when the game was won. The Cavs were smothering the Magic defensively without him, so he remained on the sideline.
Center Tristan Thompson added nine points and a game-high 13 rebounds. Reserve Dion Waiters contributed 17 points.
Harris had 16 points to lead the Magic. Evan Fournier scored 15. Victor Oladipo added 13 points and eight assists, and center Nikola Vucevic had 12 points and seven rebounds.
The Cavs (18-11) trailed for much of the game until James began to dominate late, hitting a three-point play for a 95-89 lead. James, who had 30 points on Thursday in a loss to the Miami Heat, added eight assists and five rebounds.
The Cavs were without point guard Kyrie Irving, who bruised a knee Thursday night in Miami. They already were without center Anderson Verejao, who is lost for the season after undergoing Achilles’ tendon surgery.
Cleveland looked sluggish until James took charge at the end. He started the fourth quarter on the bench with 14 points and the Cavs trailing by four. Guard Mike Miller hit his third 3-pointer to give the Cavs a 84-80 lead midway through the quarter. James and Thompson followed with consecutive three-point plays.
The Magic had played well in the first three periods, but they struggled for the second consecutive game in the fourth quarter when they scored just 14 points. Both Magic guard Oladip and Elfrid Payton finished with five turnovers.
“I don’t think we got tight down the stretch,” Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. “How many possessions at the end of the game was the ball in LeBron’s hands and he made the play for himself, or for his teammates?”
Although each team scored 22 points in the third quarter, it was dominated by runs. Miller, who was scoreless in the first half, hit two 3-pointers early in the third quarter for 62-60 Cavs lead.
Forward Channing Frye and Fournier hit back-to-back 3-pointers as part of a 10-0 run late in the third quarter for a 74-65 Magic lead. The Cavs, though, closed the quarter with a 6-1 run.
The Magic led 53-49 at halftime after hitting 22 of 37 shots from the field (60 percent) and consistently outhustling the Cavs. Fournier made 4 of 5 shots from the field and had 12 points. Harris scored nine points and reserve center Dewayne Dedmon had eight at the intermission.
Reserve guard Ben Gordon sparked the Magic to start the second quarter when he scored seven points in 2:06. Love led all scorers in the first half with 17 points, including 13 in the first quarter. Waiters had 13 points in the second quarter, all after the Cavs had fallen behind 39-29.
James had 10 points and three assists at halftime but also had three turnovers and missed six of his 10 shots from the field.
NOTES: Cavaliers G Kyrie Irving missed his first game of the season with a bruised left knee that he sustained Thursday night in Miami. Irving tested the knee during pregame before making the decision. He was replaced by Matthew Dellavedova, the second-year guard from St. Mary’s (Calif.), who got his first start. … The Cavs also moved Tristan Thompson into the starting lineup instead of Shawn Marion, using him to defend Magic C Nikola Vucevic. … The Cavaliers handed the Magic their worst loss of the season (32 points) in Cleveland in November. … The Magic assigned rookie G Devyn Marble, who had played in only five games this season, to the Erie BayHawks of the NBA Development League. … The Cavs came into the game having beaten the Magic eight consecutive times, their longest current winning streak against any opponent. … Magic G Victor Oladipo played for the first time without the protective mask that he wore since returning Nov. 12 from a facial fracture.
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.