PORTLAND, Ore. — The Los Angeles Lakers made the plays — at the offensive end, then at the defensive end — in the closing seconds Monday night.
First there was forward Wesley Johnson basket off a lob pass with 6.4 seconds left. Then there was guard Jodie Meeks’ lock-down defense on Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard’s 3-point attempt at the buzzer.
The result was a 107-106 victory Monday night at the Moda Center, the second straight win for the Lakers (21-39).
Center Pau Gasol scored 22 points and Meeks added 21 for the Lakers, who won only three of their previous 17 games before beating the Sacramento Kings on Friday.
Forward LaMarcus Aldridge had 21 points for Portland, and Lillard scored 20. Blazers center Robin Lopez added a season-high 19 points and 16 rebounds, and forward Nicolas Batum had 17 points and 15 boards. Portland (41-19) saw its five-game winning streak end.
The Lakers got into transition early and often, winning the battle in fast-break points (32-9) and points in the paint (58-40).
“Energy was the key,” Los Angeles coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We haven’t been able to get to it for different reasons, but the team plays so much better this way. Guys seem to be having fun, and they played hard tonight.”
Portland had the ball and a 106-105 lead when guard Wesley Matthews missed a 3-point attempt with 13 seconds to go. The Lakers rebounded, but Los Angeles guard Kent Bazemore lost the ball out of bounds while driving to the basket with 7.1 seconds left. The ball was initially ruled Portland’s, but after a video replay, it was awarded to the Lakers.
After a timeout, Bazemore inbounded a lob pass to Johnson, who dropped it through for a 107-106 advantage.
“Bazemore made a great pass, (Johnson) did a great job of executing it,” D’Antoni said. “We were trying to get two or three guys open, and (Bazemore) picked the lob, which was spectacular.”
The Blazers called timeout, then inbounded to Lillard. He couldn’t get around Meeks and launched a 3-pointer from the top that fell far short as time expired.
“Jodie did an unbelievable job on Lillard that last play,” D’Antoni said. “He shut him down, stayed in front of him.”
The Lakers, taking advantage of eight Portland first-quarter turnovers and outscoring the Blazers 13-0 in fast-break points, led by 15 early and settled for a 33-20 advantage heading into the second quarter.
“They came out playing a lot harder, a lot faster,” Lillard said. “They were more locked in than we were. A game like this, especially on our home floor, we can’t let that happen.”
The Lakers extended a 63-56 halftime lead to 69-59 and then 82-73 before back-to-back 3-pointers by Portland forward Dorell Wright cut the margin to three late in the third quarter. The visitors took an 87-84 advantage into the final period.
With Meeks leading the way, the Lakers upped the margin to 97-86 with 7:30 to play. The Lakers’ edge was 103-94 when the Blazers rallied, Batum’s 3-pointer capping a 7-0 run that sliced the margin to 103-101 with 3:37 remaining.
Los Angeles guard MarShon Brooks sank two free throws to make it 105-101 with 3:14 left, but Batum’s rebound jam brought Portland back to within 105-103.
A fadeaway jumper by Matthews tied it at 105-105 with 1:10 to play. Lillard missed the second of two foul shots with 34.6 seconds to go, but he followed the shot for the rebound, and the Blazers had the ball and a 106-105 lead. That set up the drama of the game’s final seconds.
“The Lakers played really well,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “They kept the pressure on us the whole game. They came out with more energy, and they sustained it throughout the game. We did a good job defensively in the second half but couldn’t quite get over the hump. We weren’t good enough tonight.”
NOTES: The Lakers earned their fourth win in their past 16 visits to Portland. … Lakers G MarShon Brooks and G Jordan Farmar came off the bench for a combined 17 points on 5-for-18 shooting, a far cry from their gunnery in the previous game, a 126-122 win over the Sacramento Kings on Friday. The duo combined for 53 points on 18-for-27 shooting in that one, including 11-for-13 from 3-point range. … The Lakers won Monday despite losing the rebound battle 53-44, the Blazers matching a season high with 20 offensive boards. … Portland C Robin Lopez notched season highs in scoring in successive games. He had 18 points in Saturday’s win over the Denver Nuggets. He recorded his 23rd double-double of the season Monday. … Portland’s Nicolas Batum, a 6-foot-8 small forward, has 31 rebounds in the past two games. … Batum joins Kevin Durant (2013-14) and LeBron James as the only NBA players since 1985 with 400 rebounds, 300 assists, 100 3-point shots and 40 blocks in his team’s first 60 games of a season. … Batum posted his sixth double-double of the 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.