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Role players help Kings topple Pelicans

The Sports Xchange

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — As usual, guard Isaiah Thomas, center DeMarcus Cousins and forward Rudy Gay played significant roles in a Sacramento Kings victory.

However, it was the play of two other players that had Kings coach Michael Malone excited after his team’s 96-89 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans on Monday at Sleep Train Arena.

Forward Reggie Evans and guard Ray McCallum may not be Sacramento’s biggest names, but they are making some of the team’s biggest contributions recently, according to Malone.

“Just trying to bring some veteran leadership, show that you never quit,” Evans said. “Understand your role for the team and do your best at it. That’s what I’m trying to.”

Evans had 10 points and a game-high 13 rebounds, five of them on the offensive end, all resulting in baskets. McCallum scored eight points and played stifling defense on New Orleans shooting guards Eric Gordon and Anthony Morrow in the final quarter. Neither scored a point.

“I loved how Ray McCallum played,” Malone said. “For me, Ray is growing up in front of our eyes. The last couple of games, he played meaningful minutes, making big plays and showing no fear.”

McCallum, who also made Sacramento’s only 3-pointer, was coming off of a nine-point, five-assist effort against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Saturday.

“I feel like I’m getting the chance to play now, so I’m finding a little rhythm out there,” McCallum said. “The game is slowing down and coming to me a little bit.”

The performances by Evans and McCallum complemented the usual from the Big Three — Cousins, Gay and Thomas combined for 59 points — and the Kings (21-39) snapped a three-game losing streak. They also handed New Orleans (23-37) its eighth consecutive loss.

The Pelicans are 0-4 on a five-game trip.

Thomas scored 11 of his 22 points in the third quarter. He sparked a decisive 22-7 run in the third that turned a 52-46 deficit into a 68-59 lead going into the fourth. Key among those shots was a driving floater from the right baseline that resulted in a three-point play.

Evans also stood out more in the second half, contributing eight of his 10 points and eight of his 13 rebounds.

“I’m not surprised,” Malone said. “We’ve all watched Reggie for years. I don’t care where he’s playing or who he is playing with, he’s going to bring great effort every minute he’s on the floor. He’s always been one of the top rebounders per minute in the NBA, and he’s got great toughness. He makes things happen out there.”

Cousins added a team-high 23 points and 12 rebounds for his 36th double-double of the season. The Kings outrebounding the Pelicans 47-30, including 16-7 on the offensive end.

Cousins also avoided drawing a technical foul. The NBA’s leader with 16, Cousins will receive a one-game suspension the next time he draws a technical.

Gay, who matched a career-high with 41 points in the teams’ previous meeting Jan. 21, scored 14 points.

The Kings won with fewer than 100 points for the first time since Feb. 3 against the Chicago Bulls.

Former Kings guard Tyreke Evans led the Pelicans with a game-high 27 points and 10 rebounds.

Forward Anthony Davis missed his first nine shots and finished with 13 points for the Pelicans (23-37). Davis made his final three shots after starting 1-for-11 from the floor. He did not sink a shot until the third quarter.

“He missed a lot of open shots,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. “When he shoots 0-for-8, it’s tough for us to win.”

The performance did nothing to alleviate concerns about Davis’ left shoulder, which he injured last Wednesday against the Dallas Mavericks. The second-year pro shot a combined 5-for-20 while scoring only 21 points over his past two games.

Without Davis’ usual 20 points per game, the Pelicans have struggled to find offense. Guard Brian Roberts added 15 points and Gordon scored 10. The two rebounded from a horrid effort against the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday by shooting a combined 10-for-22. The duo went a combined 2-for-21 against Los Angeles.

New Orleans is losing by an average score of 104-92 during its skid. The trip concludes Tuesday against the Los Angeles Lakers.

NOTES: New Orleans F Anthony Davis (20.2 points, 10.0 rebounds, 2.96 blocks per game entering Monday) has a chance to become the first player to average 20 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks per game through an entire season since current Kings executive Shaquille O’Neal did so with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1999-2000. … Sacramento is the only team with three players averaging at least 20 points per game. C DeMarcus Cousins (22.3 before Monday), G Isaiah Thomas (20.5) and F Rudy Gay (20.4) all were among the top 20 in NBA scoring entering the contest. … New Orleans was averaging 6.3 blocks per game entering the contest, the most in the NBA, and its 38 percent shooting from 3-point range ranked fourth. … Kings rookie G Ray McCallum averaged 15 minutes per game in his previous eight contests and was coming off a season-high 28-minute effort against Minnesota on Saturday. He averaged 8.8 minutes in the 22 games he played before Monday. … Sacramento opens its longest road trip of the season, seven games, Wednesday at Milwaukee.

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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Rockets spoil Griffin’s return in testy affair

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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.

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Spurs’ Ginobili sprains ankle

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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.

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NBA notebook: Clippers’ Griffin cleared to return

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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.

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