MINNEAPOLIS – Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love entered Tuesday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers with a sore ankle that has pained him for nearly two weeks, and he left Target Center after the Timberwolves’ 109-99 victory with his back, neck and head aching.
Nonetheless, Love delivered his 25th career 30-15 game – one more than Wolves superstar Kevin Garnett did while in Minnesota – with a 31-point, 17-rebound night.
Guard Steve Nash returned to the Lakers lineup for the first time since Nov. 10 and had seven points and nine assists.
But he could not overcome the Timberwolves and Love.
Love paid the proverbial price after absorbing a nasty fall in the game’s final four-plus minutes, after which he eventually got up and just kept on playing.
“I’ve always played a somewhat physical brand of basketball,” Love said afterward. “You get knocked down, you get back up.”
He did so again on Tuesday, when he and his Wolves teammates played their fourth consecutive game without injured starting center Nikola Pekovic.
Without Pekovic, Love has discovered how much more difficult life in the NBA can be.
On Tuesday, Love survived another opponent’s extra defensive attention, now that foes don’t have to worry about Pekovic’s offensive presence underneath the basket.
He also survived that fall when he drove for a layup in a game when he was fouled hard by Lakers center Robert Sacre.
Love fell hard on his hip and back, his head then snapping back hard and hitting the court with a thud that alarmed teammates.
“Scary moment, sounds bad,” Wolves point guard Ricky Rubio said. “But he’s a warrior. He came back and shoots those two free throws. There’s nothing else you can ask for.”
Love played all but the final 29 seconds of the second half on a night when the Wolves played the first of four games in five nights.
With such a demanding stretch ahead of them, Wolves coach Rick Adelman said he didn’t hesitate to ask Love to play nearly 41 minutes. The coach asked guard Kevin Martin to play more than that, as the Lakers reduced a 25-point, second-quarter deficit to just 91-84 with 10 minutes left.
Martin scored 32 points on 13-for-26 shooting while Nick Young led the Lakers with 24 points off the bench.
“The whole goal is to win the game,” said Adelman, whose team ended a two-game losing streak Tuesday after it had won five of six games before that. “I talked to him (Love) about taking him out but there’s a good chance he stiffens up and can’t go back in. I think that was the wise thing to do. All he said was, `I need ice.'”
Love’s two free throws after absorbing Sacre’s hard foul gave the Wolves a 102-91 lead with 4:10 left. The Lakers never got closer than eight points again on a night when they lost their seventh consecutive game and 13th in their last 15 games.
Injured Lakers stars Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol stayed home Monday when the team left Los Angeles on a three-game trip that started Tuesday at Target Center. Then the Lakers lost starting guard Jodie Meeks after he sprained ankle just 86 seconds into the game and power forward Jordan Hill left the game in the second quarter after hurting his neck.
Guard Steve Blake also ruptured his eardrum but kept playing in his first game back after missing the last five weeks, while Nash survived intact and played more than 24 minutes after being sidelined nearly two months with a back problem.
“The problem tonight, we did not compete in the first half and we talked about it at halftime,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Second half, we played much better. We competed on defense. That’s something you have to do is compete and we did in the second half. We don’t have enough guys or whatever, we aren’t good enough to spot them halves.”
While the Lakers continued to lose players to injury Tuesday, Love said he never considered coming out of the game, even after that scary fall.
Wolves head athletic trainer Gregg Farnam quickly came to Love’s aid, hovering over him as he lay nearly motionless under one basket while the Target Center audience hushed.
“More than anything, what worried me the most was Gregg Farnam was like two inches from my face, I felt bad for his wife,” said Love, who spent extra time in an ice bath after Tuesday’s game. “I’ve taken a few shots here and there. Tonight, I just wanted to stay in the game. I just wanted to do the best I could to help the team. With Pek out it has been tough, but with both of us out that’s about 45 points and 25 rebounds.
“I just want to keep playing and give this all I can so I’ve taken a physical beating. You’ve got to expect, being one of the top guys, that people are going to come at you.”
NOTES: Lakers G Jodie Meeks left the game after just 86 seconds because of a right ankle sprain and did not return. … Lakers F Jordan Hill hurt his neck in the second quarter and did not return, either. …Two-time league MVP G Steve Nash started Tuesday’s contest, playing his first game since the Timberwolves routed the Lakers in Los Angeles on Nov. 10. He missed 39 games because of what the Lakers called a “nerve root irritation” in his back. He played 24:37. Coach Mike D’Antoni said he will not play back-to-back games, starting with Wednesday’s game at Cleveland. “I’m just happy to get a chance to play again and hopefully get a little bit of conditioning and rhythm in a game and clawing my way back to where I can have an impact,” Nash said. … Lakers G Steve Blake also returned Tuesday, his first game since Dec. 10 because of an elbow injury. … The Timberwolves and the WNBA’s Lynx announced they are joining with the Mayo Clinic in a practice facility adjacent to Target Center that will house the Mayo Clinic Square sports-medicine facility as well as two practice courts. The Mayo Clinic is located in Rochester, Minn. …The Timberwolves now practice in a designated part of a private health club in the Target Center basement.
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.