PHILADELPHIA — Hollis Thompson was searching for his shooting stroke since missing three weeks of action due to illness.
The Philadelphia 76ers swingman appears to have found it now.
Thompson scored a career-high 23 points off the bench, as the Sixers held on to beat the struggling Denver Nuggets 105-98 Tuesday night.
Thompson made his first eight shots, including four 3-pointers, and finished 8-for-12 from the floor, 4-for-6 from the arc.
“I think recently it kind of clicked (and) came back for me,” said Thompson, who was out from Dec. 19 to Jan. 13 with an upper-respiratory infection.
After returning, he went through a four-game stretch in which he missed 19 of 24 shots. However, in the past three games, he is 15-for-28 overall, including 9-for-15 3-point shooting.
“He was out for so long and really out of my mind even for a while when he came back,” Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said. “It took him a while. … I think now clearly he’s got his feet settled, and he’s playing with confidence.”
Forward Robert Covington added 17 points for the Sixers, who won a third consecutive home game for the first time since March 2013. Guard Michael Carter-Williams finished with 15 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds.
Reserve forward Danilo Gallinari had a season-high 22 points to lead Denver, which fell for the third straight time and the 10th time in its past 11 games. Forward Wilson Chandler added 19 points, and guard Ty Lawson had 14 assists.
The Nuggets (19-30) trailed 85-59 with 1:50 left in the third quarter but reeled off 16 straight points, including two 3-pointers by backup guard Jameer Nelson, a native of nearby Chester, Pa., to cut the gap to 85-75.
Philadelphia (11-39) scored seven straight points, the first five by Covington, to go up 99-82.
Denver closed within 103-98 on a 3-pointer by Chandler in the closing seconds.
In the mind of Denver coach Brian Shaw, the game was lost long before that.
“Our defense was nonexistent,” he said. “They either got wide-open threes, layups or free throws. They got anything they wanted, they swung the ball around freely, and that’s the difference. We told (our team that the 76ers) were going to play hard, and they play hard every single night. They don’t make anything easy for you.”
The Sixers scored more than 100 points for the second time in four games after not topping 96 in their previous 23. They shot 44.3 percent from the floor, held the Nuggets to 38.8 percent shooting and owned a 49-37 rebounding advantage.
Philadelphia also attempted a season-high 42 free throws, making 32. Denver shot 20-for-28 at the foul line.
The Sixers shot 68.4 percent from the floor in the first quarter, their second-best marksmanship in any quarter this season. Behind Thompson, they mounted a 20-4 spree late in the period that extended into the second quarter and gave Philadelphia a 44-30 lead.
Thompson scored 13 of his 19 first-half points in that stretch, including three 3-pointers. His 19 points were the most by a Sixer in any half this season.
Philadelphia stretched its lead to 61-38 on yet another 3-pointer by Thompson late in the second quarter. He finished the half 6-for-6 from the floor and 4-for-4 from 3-point range.
Guard Arron Afflalo had 12 of his 14 points in the opening half to lead Denver, which missed 21 of 26 shots in the second quarter.
The Sixers extended their lead to as many as 28 in the third quarter, their biggest lead in any game this season.
Brown said there was “an element of disappointment” in seeing the Nuggets cut into the lead.
“I get greedy, and I want our players to get greedy,” he said. “We want to close games out. We don’t want the peaks and valleys. … It’s a great lesson for us, because we were up 28. It got to five. … It’s that perfect storm of how do you lose that lead?”
NOTES: Sixers G Tony Wroten, out since Jan. 14 after partially tearing his right anterior cruciate ligament, underwent successful surgery Tuesday in Gulf Breeze, Fla. The procedure was performed by Dr. James Andrews, according to a team statement, but no timetable was given for Wroten’s return. … Philadelphia G Michael Carter-Williams started after missing the second half of Monday’s loss to Cleveland with a bruised right shin. Carter-Williams does not believe it will affect his participation in the Rising Stars Challenge on All-Star weekend. Carter-Williams also said there is a possibility he will take part in the skills competition. … Denver C JaVale McGee missed the game because of illness, but F Kenneth Faried and F Darrell Arthur returned after missing Saturday’s game against Charlotte for the same reason. … The Nuggets gathered for dinner Monday night at the suburban Philadelphia home of G Jameer Nelson. “It’s something that players don’t do much anymore,” coach Brian Shaw said.
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.