HOUSTON — The Houston Rockets ran early, they ran hard, they ran with impunity and, given how a sluggish start in Los Angeles on Wednesday night marred their performance against the Clippers, running successfully was what the team needed on Saturday night.
Rockets guard James Harden posted a double-double and all five Houston starters scored in double figures in a wire-to-wire, 118-110 victory over the Detroit Pistons at the Toyota Center.
Harden finished with 20 points and 12 assists as Houston (40-19) improved to 12-0 at home this season against the Eastern Conference.
Forward Terrence Jones emerged from a monthlong slump with 22 points and 10 rebounds as the Rockets extended their home winning streak to five games despite the Pistons’ fourth-quarter comeback.
Jones averaged just 10.0 points and 5.3 rebounds in February, ceding minutes to reserve Donatas Motiejunas down the stretch of several close games.
“I just wanted to make sure I was there to make the easy play for guys that get a lot of attention like James and (Rockets center) Dwight (Howard),” said Jones, who made 10 of 15 shots from the field. “That just opens up the floor.”
Harden said of Jones: “He was doing what he does: offensive rebounds, getting to open spots and attacking his man off the dribble. He got back into a groove and we’re going to need him to play big down the stretch.”
Detroit trailed by as many as 25 points before guard Rodney Stuckey converted a layup with 5:41 left that cut the deficit to 107-97. Rockets guard Patrick Beverley responded with consecutive 3-pointers to push the lead back to 16 points with four minutes to play and supply Houston needed cushion.
Beverley finished with 19 points and five rebounds. Howard added 17 points, eight boards and four assists and forward Jordan Hamilton, substituting for Chandler Parsons (illness), had 13 points and four rebounds while making his first start with the Rockets.
Pistons center Andre Drummond posted 16 points and 17 rebounds and forward Josh Smith added 21 points but on 8-of-24 shooting from the field.
Stuckey, whose driving layup cut the deficit to seven points with 1:34 left, had 23 points off the bench, but Detroit (23-36) could not complete the comeback and lamented their awful opening half.
“It’s something that we have to find a way to control,” Pistons forward Greg Monroe said. “The last game (Wednesday night at San Antonio) in the first quarter, the (Spurs) came out and blitzed us. We were fighting an uphill battle the rest of the game.”
The Rockets blitzed the Pistons from the initial tip, grabbing an 18-4 lead with a flurry of transition baskets and rim attacks. The Pistons stood idly by as Houston dunked its way to a commanding lead, surrendering 30 points in the paint in the first quarter, including 12 in transition, as Houston raced to a 41-20 lead by the close of the quarter.
Houston opened its largest lead at 58-33 on two Howard free throws with 4:58 remaining in the first half. By the intermission, Harden, Howard and Jones combined for 41 points on 17-of-24 shooting from the field, doing so largely against the Pistons’ token interior defense.
“For us to be young and athletic, our defense needs to be way better than it was tonight,” Smith said. “It was embarrassing in the first half just because of the fact, coming into the game, the day before we had a great practice that was very competitive and we didn’t validate it.”
NOTES: Rockets F Chandler Parsons (illness) was sent home before tipoff and missed his sixth game this season. Parsons entered play ranked 19th in the NBA in total minutes (1,989) and fifth in minutes per game (37.5). … Recently acquired F Jordan Hamilton started in place of Parsons, earning his first start with the Rockets. Hamilton joined Houston at the trade deadline from the Denver Nuggets in exchange for G Aaron Brooks. Hamilton made 11 starts with the Nuggets this season. … Rockets C Dwight Howard dominated the Detroit Pistons in the first meeting, posting a season-high 35 points with 19 rebounds, five assists and three blocks in a 114-97 win on Dec. 21. Detroit approached the rematch with pause relative to defensive strategy. “You don’t want to give him a lot of the same looks and let (Houston) keep that spacing,” Pistons coach John Loyer said. “But then again you can’t guard a guy like Dwight Howard one-on-one the whole night in the post.”
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.