SACRAMENTO, Calif. — For the Denver Nuggets, the objective is the same every night: Increase the throttle on a high-speed attack and don’t let up.
“We always want to push it in the early going, and then keep on pushing it,” guard Ty Lawson said after leading Denver’s high-octane attack to a 125-117 victory over the Sacramento Kings at Sleep Train Arena. “Keep on pushing it hard.”
Lawson scored a game-high 27 points, and the Nuggets started running from the opening tap and never let up in beating the Kings for the 10th time in their past 11 meetings. Denver converted 33 fast-break points, and Lawson led a backcourt that helped break down the Kings’ perimeter defense en route to scoring 58 points inside the key.
In doing so, the Nuggets proved they don’t necessarily need to be fresh to fly. Denver (22-21) played for the second time in two nights; they dispatched the Indiana Pacers 109-96 at home on Saturday.
“It’s great to follow up that one, and play like we did in this one,” said forward Wilson Chandler, who added 20 points. “We win that game against a great team and then come in here against a great offensive team that’s tough to beat. We wanted to compete and keep the tempo fast.”
Lawson didn’t start fast. He scored only seven points in the first half. But in the third quarter, he combined with forward Timofey Mogzov to score every Denver point during a 14-8 run that put the Nuggets ahead 89-86, a lead they never relinquished.
The fifth-year pro from North Carolina also added six assists on a night he shot 9-for-15 from the field and made his only 3-pointer. He has scored in double-digits in 21 straight games and has seen his name become a part of the All-Star Game conversation. NBA coaches will select the reserve to the game on Wednesday.
“That would be really exciting,” Lawson said. “Ever since I was 6 years old, I’ve wanted to be a part of the festivities and an All-Star Game.”
Guard Isaiah Thomas scored 22 points to lead the Kings, who played without their leading scorers, center DeMarcus Cousins and forward Rudy Gay, for the second consecutive game. Thomas made only seven of 21 shots but sank a 3-pointer for the 37th game in a row, the second-longest streak in Sacramento history. Thomas is two games shy of matching Mitch Richmond’s club mark set during the 1996-97 season.
Cousins (sprained left ankle) and Gay (left Achilles strain) combined to average 42 points a game since Gay’s acquisition from the Toronto Raptors in December. Coach Michael Malone said before the game that it was not decided whether the two would travel to Utah for Sacramento’s game Monday against the Jazz.
“I haven’t been worried about our offense once this year,” Kings coach Michael Malone said. “We’ve shown that we can score the ball no matter who we play. But (Denver) scored 58 points in the paint, they had 28 layups and 33 points in transition. You can’t do that to yourself.”
Guard Marcus Thornton scored 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting for the Kings (15-28). Thornton scored a combined 61 points in the past two games after totaling 33 in his previous nine contests.
Guard Ben McLemore scored 18 for Sacramento, his best contest since scoring 20 at Miami on Dec. 20.
For Denver, forward Kenneth Faried had 15 points and 11 rebounds as Denver won its second straight following a three-game skid.
The Kings used an 11-0 surge in the third quarter to take an 80-75 lead. But Lawson and Mozgov then scored Denver’s next 14 points. Mozgov made all five of his shots from the field for the Nuggets.
NOTES: Nuggets F Darrell Arthur missed his seventh straight game with a strained left hip. Arthur is day-to-day. … G Carl Landry played his fourth straight game since returning from a torn left hip flexor that kept him out of the first 39 contests for Sacramento. … The Nuggets were averaging 112.7 points per game in January, the best mark in the NBA. They have scored at least 100 in all 13 games they’ve played this month. … For the Kings, the contest was the first of five they’ll play over a seven-day stretch. They play 11 games in 18 days leading up to the All-Star break. … Kings F Jason Thompson (13 points, 10 rebounds) tallied his fifth double-double of the season.
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.