DENVER — Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey was irritated and frustrated with his team, and he let them know it.
Fortunately for the Raptors, they beat the Denver Nuggets on Friday night. Otherwise their coach might have really let loose.
Guard DeMar DeRozan returned to the lineup to score 19 points and the Raptors beat the short-handed Nuggets 100-90 on Friday night.
Forward Terrence Ross had 18 points for the Raptors, who won for the first time in 11 years in Denver.
It wasn’t a pretty finish for the surging Raptors, who won five of six and recorded their first 11-win January in 12 years. They led by as many as 27 in the fourth, but a let-up allowed the Nuggets to get close in the final four minutes.
“We can’t be satisfied with the way we played in the fourth quarter,” Casey said. “We haven’t done anything in this league to think because we have a 20-point lead that teams are going to let you do what you’re going to do. We’ll take the W, but it was not a quality finish.”
Center J.J. Hickson had 18 points and 13 rebounds and guard Evan Fournier scored 18 points for the Nuggets, who dropped their second straight home game.
Guard Randy Foye had a career-high 16 assists for the Nuggets.
Toronto’s win avenged an earlier home loss to the Nuggets. Denver won rather handily in Toronto on Dec. 1 in a game where the Nuggets’ reserves outscored the Raptors 72-16, led by Nate Robinson’s 23 points.
Things looked very different Friday — for both teams.
Eight days after that loss, Toronto pulled off a nine-player deal with Sacramento that brought in guards Greivis Vasquez and John Salmons and forwards Chuck Hayes and Patrick Patterson.
The Raptors played better since the deal, going 18-9 while getting solid production from all four players.
The Nuggets, meanwhile, were without their best player, guard Ty Lawson, and Robinson. Lawson is nursing a strained left rotator cuff while Robinson is done for the season after having surgery on his torn left ACL earlier Friday.
The Nuggets could have used both of them against the surging Raptors. Denver committed a season-high 26 turnovers, 10 in the third quarter when Toronto took control.
“The guys we’re asking to be playmakers in Ty’s absence and Nate’s absence, they’re used to being recipients,” coach Brian Shaw said. “Ty sets the table, he does all the penetrating and they just basically have to catch and shoot. Now they’re in a position where they have to set the table and play make.”
The Nuggets have dealt with plenty of injuries this season. Three players they hoped would be starting Friday — Lawson, forward Danilo Gallinari and center JaVale McGee — weren’t in the lineup. Add to that Robinson’s injury and the permanent leave of absence for guard Andre Miller and Denver is a shell of its 57-win team from last year.
“We have guys that our out but that doesn’t mean other guys can’t step up,” Hickson said. “If everybody does a little more we can make up for it. But our point guards are definitely missed.”
It showed Friday.
Leading 62-60 in the third, guard Kyle Lowry hit a 3-pointer to spark an 11-3 run that gave the Raptors a 10-point lead. Lowry hit a step-back 3-pointer and DeRozan hit a 17-foot fade away to make it 86-70 heading into the fourth.
The Raptors led 99-75 early in the fourth but went cold. Denver went on an 11-0 run to get make it interesting but really threatened.
DeRozan had 14 points in the third quarter after a tentative start to the game.
“I didn’t want to force myself early on. I wanted to fit into what the guys have been doing the last two games, try to get my rhythm back,” he said. “I picked it up in the third quarter.”
He said Casey was right to be angry about the fourth quarter.
“You have to respect that. It is not acceptable how we finished,” he said. “We have to learn how to keep leads and close out games.”
Ross had 16 points in the first half to help the Raptors take a 60-53 at the break. Toronto led by as many as 12, but the Nuggets pulled within four points on Hickson’s layup with 3:17 left in the second.
Forward Amir Johnson’s jumper stretched the lead to 58-50, Foye’s three-point play cut it to five and Denver had a chance to make it closer at the break but Ross’ fast-break dunk off a Johnson steal gave Toronto the seven-point lead at intermission.
NOTES: Nuggets G Nate Robinson’s surgery on Friday for a torn left ACL was performed by team doctor Steve Traina. Traina performed the same procedure on F Danilo Gallinari last week. … Toronto G DeMar DeRozan returned to the lineup after missing two games with a sprained left foot. DeRozan was named an Eastern Conference All-Star reserve on Thursday. … Denver G Ty Lawson’s strained left rotator cuff is improving but not enough to get back into the lineup. He has missed the past two games after suffering the injury on Sunday in Sacramento. … Toronto F Patrick Patterson returned to the lineup after missing one game with a broken nose. Patterson was wearing a protective mask on his face.
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.