INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Pacers knew they let their guard down and suffered an unnecessary loss to an outmatched opponent Sunday.
Given an immediate chance at redemption, forward David West and his teammates did not disappoint, riding a wave of anger and motivation to a bulge that made the fourth quarter irrelevant.
West scored 21 of his 25 points in the first half, and the Pacers crushed the Denver Nuggets 119-80 for their biggest win of the season Monday night.
Forward Paul George said the team wanted to wash away the taste of a 93-92 loss at Orlando in which they blew a 17-point lead in the second half. That collapse, George said, did not reflect Pacers basketball.
“We got too relaxed,” George said. “We got away from what we do. You’ve got to have a short-term memory. The game last night fueled us tonight to get back to sharing the ball and playing for one another.”
The all-for-one ethos paid off, as Indiana shot a season-best 57.5 percent from the field, sinking 46 of 80 shots in a game that was barely competitive.
“It seemed like everyone was scoring,” said forward Wilson Chandler, who led Denver with 17 points and five rebounds. “We got no stops. We have to not let it be so easy for the other team to score.”
But the Pacers were determined to build a lead and keep it, seizing a 17-point advantage early in the second quarter and failing to succumb to the turnovers and defensive lapses that plagued them against the Magic, who have the third-worst record in the NBA.
“The basketball gods punished us for that,” said guard Lance Stephenson, who scored 12 points and was once of six Pacers in double figures against Denver. “Tonight we were dialed in. We played so hard.”
As a result, Indiana (40-11) won for the 14th time in its past 15 home games and made quick work of an opponent missing four of its top players.
The margin of victory was Indiana’s largest over Denver in the teams’ NBA history. The Nuggets shot just 31.5 percent from the field (28 of 89) and were outrebounded 56-37, never competing in any facet of the game.
“They kept hitting us, they keep hitting you,” Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried said of the physical Pacers.
A team that went through an offseason of change, Denver (24-26) lost its third straight and fell for the eighth time in 12 games. The Nuggets were playing without three starters — point guard Ty Lawson, center JaVale McGee and forward Danilo Gallinari — as well as reserve guard Nate Robinson.
What coach Brian Shaw had left on his bench was no match for the league-best Pacers, who led by 11 after the first quarter, by 21 at halftime and by 29 entering the fourth quarter.
“I can take losing,” Shaw said. “I don’t want our guys to display being a loser. When things go bad, I don’t want everyone to splinter off and jump off the ship. That was the one thing I’m disappointed in.”
The visitors dug themselves an early hole and only sunk lower.
The Pacers actually trailed 11-10 before reeling off an 18-8 run, spurred by 13 points from West, who dominated his favorable matchup with the slender Faried.
Although West had 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting in the first quarter, he was far from a one-man show.
Pacers center Roy Hibbert had 14 points and 12 rebounds, his 13th double-double, while point guard George Hill added 10 points, seven rebounds and five assists. All of Indiana’s 13 active players scored, and every starter played fewer than 30 minutes.
Indiana led 37-20 on forward Luis Scola’s jumper early in the second quarter and then used an 11-2 run, capped by George’s 3-pointer, to lead 56-36 with 1:33 left in the first half.
Indiana was up 61-40 at the break and was never challenged after that.
“We had a film session and wanted to put last night to rest,” West said. “We made a lot of mistakes last night, didn’t play the game the right way, and it cost us. We can’t afford to give games away when we’re in a fight for the top spot in the conference. I thought we came out with a different resolve.”
NOTES: Nuggets coach Brian Shaw was Indiana’s associate head coach for the previous two seasons, helping develop F Paul George into an All-Star and lending knowledge from his championship runs as a player with the Los Angeles Lakers. Shaw received applause during pregame introductions and raised a hand in appreciation. … Pacers G Orlando Johnson is away from the team and getting game action with the Fort Wayne MadAnts of the NBA Development League. … Denver concludes its four-game road trip on Wednesday in Minnesota. … The Pacers host the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday in their finale before the All-Star break.
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.