OAKLAND, Calif. — The Charlotte Bobcats left home nine days ago on for a difficult road trip.
Improbably, the trek was a rousing success.
Jefferson and shooting guard Gerald Henderson combined for 47 points Tuesday night as the Bobcats capped an impressive Western swing with a 91-75 victory over the Golden State Warriors.
Winning for the third time on the four-game venture, the Bobcats (22-28) surpassed their victory total from the entire 2012-13 season.
More important, Charlotte flew home early Wednesday morning holding the eighth and final playoff spot in the East as a result of knocking off three of last year’s Western playoff clubs.
“We believed before we left Charlotte the West Coast trip could break us or could help us,” center Al Jefferson said after a 30-point night that gave him a 35-point average in the Bobcats’ three Western wins. “Thank goodness it turned out this way. We feel like this could have been the turning point of our season.”
Jefferson scored 11 of his 30 points in the third quarter, and Henderson added eight of his 17 as Charlotte staved off Golden State’s best charge of the night in handing the Warriors (29-20) a fourth loss in their past six home games.
In doing so, the Bobcats held Golden State to a season-low field-goal percentage (31.2 percent, 29 of 93) and its lowest scoring output in a home game all season.
“We were organized,” Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said of the defensive effort. “We got back in transition and we were organized in our pick-and-roll defense. Listen, that wasn’t (the Warriors’) best, but I liked the way our guys played.”
Point guard Kemba Walker returned from a seven-game absence caused by a sprained left ankle to contribute seven points, seven assists and six rebounds as the Bobcats completed a two-game, season-series sweep over the Western playoff contender.
Former Warriors forward Anthony Tolliver came off the Charlotte bench to add 11 points, six coming on consecutive 3-pointers after Golden State closed within 72-60 early in the fourth quarter.
Jefferson also had 13 rebounds, including 11 on the defensive end, to secure the fourth 30/10 effort in his past five games.
“When you’re playing against a great defensive player like Andrew Bogut … you can’t try to attack him one way,” Jefferson said. “You just have to learn how to choose your spots when you go up against guys like that.”
All-Star point guard Stephen Curry led the Warriors with 17 points — 11 fewer than his career average against Charlotte.
Curry also had 11 assists, Bogut grabbed a game-high 15 rebounds, and shooting guard Klay Thompson managed 12 points despite 5-for-13 shooting for the Warriors, who were attempting to get Mark Jackson his 100th win as the Golden State coach.
“We are taking the life out of the building,” Jackson said of the Warriors’ fourth home loss in 17 days. “Just disappointing. Another game where … it’s a game we should win.”
Warriors power forward David Lee shot 3-for-13 and was held to eight points, snapping his string of 123 consecutive games scoring in double figures.
The Warriors, who won their previous two games, shot just 20 percent (four of 20) from 3-point range and were outscored 15-12 from beyond the arc despite attempting seven more 3s than the Bobcats.
“The mark of a really good team is they take care of home court,” Lee said. “Teams like (Washington and Charlotte), we can’t lose those at home. Just like Orlando got us twice last year. Charlotte did that to us this year, and it’s very, very disappointing.”
The Bobcats built a 51-39 halftime advantage on the strength of a 26-13, game-opening run in which the Warriors missed 19 of their 25 shots.
Jefferson hit five of eight and had 13 points in the half, during which Charlotte shot 50 percent from the field.
The Bobcats never led by fewer than eight in the second half.
NOTES: The 16-point margin of victory was Charlotte’s largest ever against Golden State. … The season-series sweep of the Warriors was just the second in Bobcats history. … Charlotte is now 11-15 on the road. It won only six games away from home all last season. … Golden State’s 75 points were its fewest ever against Charlotte, and its .312 field-goal percentage was its lowest since 2004. … Warriors PG Stephen Curry’s 17 points were the fewest he ever scored against the Bobcats. … Having had only 15 days off during January, the Bobcats play only three times in the next 13 days. … The Bobcats were not the only team to get a key player back from injury. Warriors backup C Jermaine O’Neal had been out since Dec. 9 after surgery on his right wrist. O’Neal played 16 1/2 minutes off the bench Tuesday, and he contributed nine points and eight rebounds.
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.