SALT LAKE CITY — Maybe Kevin Love should play center more often.
The All-Star posted his first career triple-double and the Minnesota Timberwolves opened a five-game road trip with a 121-104 blowout victory over the Utah Jazz on Saturday night at EnergySolutions Arena.
Love, starting at center because of Minnesota injuries, finished with 37 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. He did not play the final nine minutes and only logged 33 minutes, allowing him to get some rest for a Sunday night game at Phoenix.
“Kevin Love was unbelievable,” Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman said. “He’s incredible.”
Love, who participated in his third All-Star Game last Sunday, hit 6 of 10 3-pointers and drained 9 of 10 free throws while leading the Timberwolves (27-28) to their third consecutive victory.
“It just shows, at least for this year and through my first six years in the league, how my game has progressed,” Love said. “Being able to find different guys, I think it’s a product of these guys being out, we have to step out different ways.”
The Timberwolves played without center Nikola Pekovic (ankle), center Ronny Turiaf (knee) and guard Kevin Martin (thumb) because of injuries.
Even so, Minnesota shot 51.2 percent from the field, including 11 of 23 from long range, and outrebounded Utah 49-34.
Utah again struggled mightily without starting center Derrick Favors. He missed his third straight game since the All-Star break with a right hip sprain. The Jazz, losers of three straight since a three-game winning streak, have now lost all nine games without him on the court this season.
“It wasn’t a lot of positives tonight in this game, and that’s the disheartening thing about it,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said. “We’ve got a lot of basketball to play. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We’ve got to come back and try to get another win streak going.”
Fill-in starting center Enes Kanter topped Utah (19-36) with 25 points on 11-of-14 shooting from the field, but the 6-foot-11 third-year pro struggled to contain Love on the perimeter. Kanter also had seven rebounds.
“He’s a really good player. He’s an All-Star,” Kanter said of Love. “In the end, he made some crazy shots. I just can’t do nothing about it.”
Point guard Ricky Rubio contributed 15 points, seven assists and six rebounds, forward Chase Budinger drilled 3 of 4 from beyond the arc and finished with 13 points, forward Corey Brewer also had 13, and forward Dante Cunningham added 11 points as all five Minnesota starters scored in double figures.
Love helped the Timberwolves gain a big advantage over Utah with some long-court passes to start fast breaks. Minnesota scored 24 points in transition compared with 13 for Utah.
“We’ve been talking about it all year that my parents never let me play football. It was my way of being quarterback out there,” Love said of his long passes to Brewer and other teammates. “Tonight, they (the Jazz) didn’t do a fantastic job of getting back.”
Or much else, really.
Point guard Trey Burke finished with 16 points and six assists, backup guard Alec Burks had 15 points and Richard Jefferson contributed 14 points. Leading scorer Gordon Hayward only had five points on 2-of-10 shooting from the field and quickly exited the locker room as reporters entered after the loss.
But the Jazz dropped to 5-11 on the second night of back-to-backs after losing for the second time in as many nights.
Utah played with very little energy a night after losing 102-94 Friday in Portland. The Timberwolves jumped ahead 26-21 after the first quarter and the visitors went into the locker room ahead 59-49.
Minnesota, which also posted lopsided victories over Utah in their first two meetings this season, took control for good late in the first half.
Jazz forward Jeremy Evans tied the score at 41, but the Timberwolves closed the half by outscoring Utah 18-8 in the final 3:31.
Love scored eight straight Minnesota points to open the third quarter, including two 3-pointers, and the Timberwolves quickly increased their lead to 17 — and eventually 21 — moments into the second half.
The Jazz were never within single digits the entire second half.
Center Gorgui Dieng had a nice game with eight points and eight rebounds off the bench for Minnesota. Dieng and forward Shabazz Muhammad were drafted by Utah last June and then traded to Minnesota in exchange for Burke.
NOTES: The Jazz are not sure how long C Derrick Favors will be out with his hip injury. He has missed the past three games. “He tried to come back and practice a couple of days,” Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin said, “and it just didn’t get better. … It hasn’t responded yet.” … Likewise, Minnesota coach Rick Adelman is not sure when injured C Nikola Pekovic will return to action. He has been out for 11 games with bursitis in his right ankle. “I really have no idea,” Adelman said. “He hasn’t really ran or practiced or anything. When he is available, I don’t know what his condition will be or what he can take.” … G Gordon Hayward is on track to become the second player in the Jazz’s 40-year history to average 16 points, five rebounds and five assists. Pete Maravich accomplished that in 1974-75 (21.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 6.2 apg) and 1976-77 (31.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 5.4 apg). Hayward is averaging 16.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.0 assists.
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.