SALT LAKE CITY – It took 45 games, but the Utah Jazz finally escaped from the cellar of the Western Conference.
Center Derrick Favors and forwards Marvin Williams and Jeremy Evans all produced double-doubles and the Jazz took advantage of a short-handed Sacramento Kings squad en route to a 106-99 victory on Monday night at EnergySolutions Arena.
The outcome pushed the Jazz’s record to 16-29 and dropped the Kings to 15-29, marking the first time this season that Utah hasn’t owned the worst record in the West.
“It is definitely a relief. You get tired of seeing yourself down there at the bottom,” Jazz point guard Trey Burke said. “But that goes to show how hard we’ve been working the last couple of months (after) just digging ourselves a hole in the beginning of the year.”
The Jazz are 15-15 since beginning the season 1-14. The Kings, plagued by recent injuries to top players, lost their fourth game in a row.
Favors had 17 points and 12 rebounds for his 15th double-double to lead the Jazz, who matched their season high of two wins in a row. Williams contributed 16 points and 11 rebounds, and Evans came off the bench to add 14 points and 10 boards.
The Kings used a peculiar strategy to stage a comeback in the fourth quarter after falling behind by as many as 20 points.
Backup Utah center Enes Kanter hit a 15-foot jumper, giving the Jazz a 97-81 lead with 4:20 remaining, when the Kings began fouling Utah players in an effort to rally.
Sacramento coach Mike Malone wasn’t about to apologize for taking the game to the free-throw line.
“I’m always going to (do that), whether it’s young guys, old guys, middle-aged guys,” he said. “I’m always going to do everything I can to extend the game and give us a chance to win.”
That hack-a-Jazz-man strategy almost worked. It also made the fourth quarter last for 40 minutes.
In the final 3:16, Utah only hit nine of 20 free throws. The Kings kept the pressure on the Jazz reserves, pulling within 104-99 with 31 seconds remaining on a three-point play by rookie guard Ben McLemore.
“Does it get under the skin of players? I don’t know, it probably (does),” Favors said. “Guys on the court are probably ready to get the game over with, too. At the same time, they’ve just got to understand that they’re trying to do something. We’ve just got to be focused and hit the free throws.”
Kings reserve Ray McCallum made a turnover and missed a 3-pointer after that, though, as Sacramento’s rally fell short.
“It slows the game down, it stops the clock, and it gives us extra possessions,” Malone said. “We went from being completely out of the game to making it interesting.”
The Kings began the game without their leading scorers, center DeMarcus Cousins and forward Rudy Gay, because of injuries, and they played the fourth quarter and a half without their No. 3 scorer. Starting point guard Isaiah Thomas didn’t return to action after going to the locker room in the third quarter with a stomach ailment.
Cousins didn’t make the trip to Salt Lake City from Sacramento. He missed the past three games after spraining his left ankle in Houston on Jan. 22.
Gay suffered a left Achilles injury in that same game against the Rockets. He tested the foot before Monday’s tipoff but didn’t dress.
“Sometimes it’s tough,” Kings forward Derrick Williams said. “At the same time, there is a reason why you have 15 guys in the locker room.”
Center Jason Thompson led the Kings with 19 points and 11 rebounds, and Williams chipped in 17 points and 15 boards.
Evans was poked in the eye by McLemore while driving to the basket in the second quarter. He missed both free throws and played for several minutes before going to the training room to be evaluated. Evans returned in the second half, finishing with one of his best games this season.
The Jazz finished hitting 35 of 53 free throws, including 12 of 25 in the fourth quarter.
“We’ve got to make free throws,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. “It worked for them, so they’ll continue to do it.”
NOTES: When Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan is honored by the Jazz on Friday night, the banner raised to the arena rafters will sport the number 1,223. That represents the wins that Sloan posted in the regular season and playoffs during his 23 years with the Jazz. … Utah coach Tyrone Corbin, who replaced Sloan three years ago, joked that he isn’t sure how a jersey would look “with that many numbers on it.” Corbin described Sloan’s career, which included two NBA Finals trips and the third-most wins in NBA history, as being “a lot of work.” … Utah’s newest player, F Malcolm Thomas, did not dress after arriving in his new NBA home on Sunday. The Jazz claimed the former San Diego State player off waivers on Saturday after the San Antonio Spurs cut him on Thursday. He said he was getting a pedicure with his mom when he received the call. … Sacramento won in its last visit to Utah, 112-102 in overtime on Dec. 7. … Kings G Jimmer Fredette, who played at nearby BYU, was booed and cheered every time he touched the ball.
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.