SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The Memphis Grizzlies methodically moved up the Western Conference standings since the start of winter. They are doing so playing a brand of basketball that is just as meticulous.
“We’re not the kind of team that’s gonna go up and down the court,” Grizzlies guard Mike Conley said. “We rely on getting stops, slowing the game down, getting to the line and pulling away slowly. That’s how we do it.”
That was how Memphis did it against the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday, clamping down late and using a surge in the final three minutes to secure a 99-89 victory at Sleep Train Arena.
Conley, who finished with a game-high 27 points and 10 assists, made a 3-pointer during Memphis’ game-ending 11-4 run. He added fuel to the argument that he should be picked as a reserve for the Western Conference in the All-Star Game. The coaches’ decisions on which players will join the fan-picked starters will be revealed Thursday.
“Man, I’m just playing ball,” Conley said. “Right now, I’m playing it at a high level, and doing what my team needs me to do. I’ll let the other guys decide that.”
Forward Zach Randolph added 18 points and seven rebounds for Memphis, which has not cooled down since the start of winter. The Grizzlies (24-20) won their fourth straight, ninth in the past 10, and improved to 14-5 since Dec. 21. Since then, they have moved from 13th place to ninth in the Western Conference, only a half-game behind the eighth-place Dallas Mavericks in the race for the final playoff spot.
“The chemistry is as good as I’ve seen it,” Memphis coach David Joerger said. “We’re having fun, playing hard.”
Guard Isaiah Thomas returned from an illness to score 24 points to lead Sacramento (15-30), which lost its fourth game in a row. Thomas, who sat out the second half of Tuesday’s loss at Utah after becoming ill, scored eight of Sacramento’s first 14 points before Conley started hounding him. Thomas missed 11 of his final 18 shots.
Forward Rudy Gay, playing for the first time in four games, added 23 points on 10-for-16 shooting but was unable to prevent the Kings from being held under 100 points for the first time in their past 14 home games. Gay, returning from a strained left Achilles tendon, drew the Kings within 86-83 with 3:46 left on a jumper that pushed him over the 10,000-point mark for his career.
However, he turned over the ball twice on the Kings’ next four possessions, and Memphis converted both into scores. Grizzlies forward Tayshaun Prince’s long arms created both of the turnovers, and Prince converted one of them for a breakaway dunk for a 97-87 lead with 1:32 to go.
Gay finished with five turnovers and appeared to tweak his Achilles injury midway through the fourth quarter.
“He was trying to make plays and maybe being a little too aggressive,” Kings coach Michael Malone said. “I’m not going to make any excuses for his turnovers. Hopefully, he’ll be better in Dallas on Friday night.”
Memphis, which benefited from 17 Sacramento turnovers, held its opponent below 90 points for the fourth consecutive game. The Grizzlies have gone eight straight games without allowing 100.
“Defense has been big for us,” Conley said. “We’re getting three, four, five stops in a row in bunches.”
Forward Marc Gasol added 12 points and five rebounds for the Grizzlies, and forward Mike Miller came off the bench to score 11.
NOTES: Kings C DeMarcus Cousins sat out his fourth consecutive game. Cousins hasn’t played since suffering a sprained left ankle against the Houston Rockets on Jan. 22. … The Kings last were held under 100 points at home in a 97-95 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Dec. 3. … Memphis F Tayshaun Prince has started 802 games since the start of the 2003-04 season, the second most in the NBA behind Miami Heat F LeBron James (808). … The Grizzlies were playing their sixth game in 13 days. … Kings G Ben McLemore, the NBA’s Western Conference Rookie of the Month in November, was left off the rookie roster for the NBA’s Rising Stars Game at All-Star weekend. McLemore is averaging 7.5 points since Dec. 1, and his minutes have declined since the opening month. … Grizzlies F Zach Randolph ranks eighth among active players in double-doubles with 385. … Kings F Rudy Gay finished the game with 10,001 career points.
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.