MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Just a few weeks ago, fans at the FedExForum booed Memphis Grizzlies rookie Nick Calathes. Not when he missed a shot or made a turnover. But when they saw him get up off the bench and head to the scorer’s table to check into the game.
That was the low point. The back-up point guard was playing so poorly — and so clearly without confidence — that fans dreaded what would happen when he came in for starting point guard Mike Conley. But with Conley, who is also the team’s leading scorer, out with an ankle sprain, the Grizzlies had little choice but to give Calathes the first NBA start of his career Saturday night against Milwaukee.
Calathes rewarded the Grizzlies with career highs 22 points, including four 3-pointers and five rebounds in a 99-90 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday.
“The guy showed serious guts,” Memphis coach Dave Joerger said after his team’s sixth straight win and 11th in its last 12 games.
Memphis is an NBA-best 16-5 since Dec. 21.
Calathes played a career-high 40 minutes. And though he only handed out three assists, he did not commit a single turnover.
“That was the biggest stat of the night for me,” Calathes said.
Memphis (26-20) also got another double-double from power forward Zach Randolph (23 points, 10 rebounds). Center Marc Gasol finished with 19 points and forward James Johnson chipped in 14 points off the bench and, as usual, put numbers all the way across the stat sheet with four rebounds, two assists and two blocks.
The Bucks double-teamed Randolph and left Calathes open from beyond the arc, where he hit 4-of-5 shots.
“I made them pay for it,” Calathes said.
Calathes came to the Grizzlies in the offseason after spending four years in Europe. He struggled at times this season to even get the team into offensive sets and had been a 50-percent shooter from the free-throw line.
But teammates say they were not surprised he finally had a breakout game.
“He’s here for a reason, because he’s a good player,” Gasol said. “It’s not like it’s his first year playing basketball. He’s been doing this awhile.”
Milwaukee (8-39) lost its sixth in a row and is now 1-15 in 2014. The Bucks have lost nine straight road games. They are 1-16 against Western Conference teams.
“I know that as a team we can do it,” said guard Brandon Knight, who led the Bucks with 23 points and seven assists. “The good teams, they do it for four quarters.”
The Bucks had a 69-67 lead after three quarters. But the Grizzlies went on a 16-4 run in the fourth quarter, capped by a Calathes 3-pointer with 6:23 to go up 83-73. The Bucks got the lead down to seven, but another Calathes 3-pointer with 3:12 remaining put Memphis up 90-78.
That was it.
“I don’t know if it’s the belief (is down),” Bucks coach Larry Drew said. “We just have breakdowns. And we didn’t have those types of breakdowns in the first half. I have to get my finger on it and see what I can do about it.”
Milwaukee forward Ersan Ilyasova finished with 14 points and 13 rebounds. Forward Khris Middleton scored 12, and center Larry Sanders and forward Caron Butler each had 10 points.
The Grizzlies shot 48.1 percent from the floor (38-for-79). The Bucks shot 39.5 percent (30-for-76).
Memphis out-rebounded Milwaukee 48-38.
The Bucks led by as many as 13 in the first half, going up 36-23 with 8:01 left in the second quarter. The Bucks led 49-43 at the break.
Calathes scored 12 of his points in the second half and was 3-for-3 from long distance. He also made two of his assists and a steal in the second half.
Conley is expected to miss no less than a week with the ankle sprain, and perhaps a good bit more time than that.
“Obviously, this game feels great,” Calathes said. “I’ll just do what I can do till Mike comes back and then I’ll be back in the role I was.”
NOTES: Bucks reserve C Zaza Pachulia has missed 28 games with a foot injury, but before Saturday’s game Milwaukee coach Larry Drew said the 11-year veteran was available and expected him to play “10 to 12 minutes.” He played 12 with four points and one rebound … Bucks reserve G O.J. Mayo missed his fourth straight game because of illness … Memphis guard Tony Allen sat out his 14th straight game with a sprained wrist.
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.