MILWAUKEE — Entering the final stop on a 12-day, seven-game road trip, the red-hot Los Angeles Clippers were not going to be lulled into complacency by a team with the worst record in the NBA.
Instead, the Clippers (32-15) wrapped up their annual Grammy Award-induced trip with a exclamation point, drubbing the Bucks 114-86 at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
“We all said this was going to be the hardest game,” Clippers guard Jamal Crawford said. “It was good to close this out the right way.”
Crawford led the Clippers with 25 points, including five 3-pointers off the bench, and forward Blake Griffin added 20, with 11 points coming in the second quarter when he made 5 of 6 shots from the field.
“The way Blake is playing down there, they (have) to double-team him and it allows all our shooters to get good, clean looks,” Crawford said.
Guard J.J. Redick added 14 points and guard Willie Green had 13 for the Clippers, who shot 54.4 percent from the field and made 14 of 28 3-pointers while holding Milwaukee to 38 percent shooting from the floor.
“It really was defense,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “The end of the first, beginning of second, our second unit actually, started getting stops. With our offense, we are going to keep scoring. I thought that was the stretch that changed the game for us. The last nine minutes of the second quarter changed the game.”
Milwaukee got off to a decent start, hitting 11 of 22 from the field in the first quarter and opened the second with a 7-0 run to cut the deficit to 34-32 on forward Khris Middleton’s 18-footer with 9:58 remaining. But Los Angeles responded with a 23-4 run in the next 8:25 and took a 64-41 lead into halftime.
“We got down but fought back and got within two,” Bucks coach Larry Drew said. “But we came out, missed a couple of shots and turned the ball over.
“Our margin for error is really small, particularly against really good teams.”
Drew had just nine healthy bodies available, making things all the more difficult against the Clippers, who had won three of four coming into the game and are fourth in the Western Conference playoff hunt.
“They’re unbelievable,” Bucks forward Caron Butler said. “They’re contenders. They’re playing great basketball and one of their best players isn’t even out there yet. They’re only going to get better when Chris Paul returns.”
Middleton led Milwaukee (8-36) with 16 points and forward Ersan Ilyasova had 14. Centers John Henson and Miroslav Raduljica and Butler each finished with 11.
“I think we responded well,” Henson said. “It’s just something that happens. You can’t overlook the fact that we were missing two key players. That kind of hurt us a little bit, but that’s not an excuse. We’ve got to be better.”
After trailing by as many as 33 on Saturday in a 25-point loss to Atlanta, Drew called out his team’s lack of effort in a 20-minute, closed-door meeting.
Milwaukee fell behind by as many as 39 on Monday, but Drew had no issue with the Bucks’ preparation.
“I thought we came out and we played with our energy,” Drew said. “It just seems like we go through a situation where we fall out of a little steam and when you do that against a team like the Clippers, they’ll make you pay for it.”
Milwaukee has lost three in a row and 15 of its last 17, dropping to 1-14 against Western Conference teams this season. The only win came against the Los Angeles Lakers on Dec. 31.
NOTES: Bucks Gs O.J. Mayo and Gary Neal and C Larry Sanders were all out because of flu-like symptoms, and C Epke Udoh missed his second straight game because of his left ankle. … Los Angeles PG Chris Paul (separated shoulder) was able to shoot during a pregame workout but missed his 12th straight game. Clippers coach Doc Rivers said there is no firm timetable on Paul’s return. … Bucks F Caron Butler spent the previous two seasons with the Clippers, averaging 11.1 points and 3.2 rebounds in 141 games. … Through the first seven games of Los Angeles’ annual Grammy Awards road trip, F Jamal Crawford is averaging 25.4 points per game. … Three of the Bucks’ last five losses have been by at least 25 points and they’ve lost 20 times this season by 10 points or more.
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.