MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Since center Marc Gasol returned from a knee injury, the Memphis Grizzlies were making their move, winning 16 of 22 since Dec. 21, 11 of 12 in one recent stretch.
A team that went to the Western Conference finals last season, a team full of players who over and over would say, “We hang our hat on our defense,” was again backing up its reputation.
The hot streak pulled the Grizzlies within a game of the Dallas Mavericks for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference heading into Wednesday night’s game between the rivals.
Dallas slowed Memphis’ momentum with a 110-96 win at the FedExForum.
Afterward, someone mentioned to Mavericks forward Shawn Marion that Memphis was the hottest team in the NBA.
“Are they?” said Marion, who finished with eight points and three steals. “That’s a good job.”
A great job.
“We couldn’t stop them, couldn’t stop them,” said power forward Zach Randolph, who led the Grizzlies with 25 points and nine rebounds. “They got a lot of weapons, a veteran team, a smart team.”
One of those veterans, forward Dirk Nowitzki led Dallas (29-21) with 26 points and added six rebounds, three assists and two steals. It was his fifth consecutive game with 23 or more points and his 29th game of the season with 20 or more points.
But Nowitzki had help. Forward Brandan Wright came off the bench to score 17 points. Center Samuel Dalembert had 14 points and 10 rebounds, and guard Monta Ellis also scored 14. Reserve guard/forward Vince Carter contributed 13 points and seven assists.
The Mavericks led 78-72 after three quarters, but they stretched the lead to as many as 17 in the fourth quarter and never led by fewer than 11 points in the last four minutes of the game.
While both teams shot well, with the Mavericks finishing at 53.8 percent (42-for-78) and Memphis at 53.6 percent (37-for-69), Dallas enjoyed a huge advantage on points in the paint: 56-32.
“I did a poor job of getting us ready for the multiple pick-and-roll action that they ran,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger said. “So this is on me.”
The Mavericks are eight games over .500 for the first time this season.
“We don’t want to jinx it, but we’re headed in the right direction,” guard Devin Harris said.
The Mavericks also improved their record against the Grizzlies to 3-0 this season. The two teams meet in the last regular-season game, in Memphis on April 16.
“If we had won, we would still be able to make the playoffs; if we lose, it doesn’t change anything,” said Memphis center Marc Gasol, who finished with 12 points and six turnovers. “We have a lot of games left. Of course, we would like to win every game. But if you lose, you move on.”
The Grizzlies (26-22) played without starting point guard Mike Conley, who missed his third straight game with a right ankle sprain. He is unlikely to return before the All-Star break.
“Even without some of their good players, it’s a tough place to play,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “It was a heck of a win for us.”
Memphis shooting guard Courtney Lee scored 22, and forward James Johnson added 17 points and four blocks off the bench. Rookie point guard Nick Calathes finished with 16 points, but he offset five assists with six turnovers.
The Grizzlies now finish the first half of the season with four games against Eastern Conference teams.
“The biggest four games of the year,” Joerger said. “There are 30 after that. This is a game that was worth two — their win and our loss.”
NOTES: Since C Marc Gasol’s return, Memphis has led the NBA in defensive rating (94.3). … In that same span, Dallas led the league in offensive rating (114.2), but ranked last in defensive rating (112.8). … Mavericks F Dirk Nowitzki averaged 30.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 32.8 minutes during a four-game homestand that concluded Monday. … Dallas went 3-1 on the homestand and improved to 17-8 at home. … Grizzlies F James Johnson, despite being signed in midseason, leads the league in blocks on opponent’s 3-point attempts with 14 in just 24 games; two other players are tied at nine. … In his first three starts for injured PG Mike Conley (ankle sprain), including Wednesday, Grizzlies G Nick Calathes averaged 15.3 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists and two turnovers in 36.7 minutes.
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.