MILWAUKEE — Forward Giannis Antetokounmpo has drawn much of the Bucks’ sparse positive attention this season — and rightfully so — but second-round pick Nate Wolters, a point guard out of South Dakota State — is quietly establishing himself as a key part of Milwaukee’s rotation.
Wolters’ unlikely rookie season reached another high Tuesday when he scored 15 points — including a go-ahead 3-pointer with 29 seconds to play — in the Bucks’ 104-100 victory over the Magic at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
“I’m feeling a lot better from (beyond the arc),” said Wolters, who now has five 3-pointers in his past three games. “I just have to shoot with confidence. Hopefully I can keep it up. I’ve been playing so many minutes, and coach (Larry) Drew is giving me an opportunity, so I have to be able to knock some shots down.”
The Bucks’ two rookies played a pivotal role down the stretch as Milwaukee held off Orlando over the final minutes.
Milwaukee went ahead by eight on forward John Henson’s dunk with 8:56 to play, but after a Magic turnover, the Bucks missed their next three shots and Orlando scored seven straight to make it an 89-88 game with 6:43 to play.
Coming out of a timeout, Henson scored a quick basket, giving the Bucks a three-point lead, but Orlando tied it up on a 3-pointer by guard E’Twaun Moore.
Antetokounmpo broke the tie with a long 3-pointer. He got a timely steal on the defensive end and found Wolters for an easy layup, but Orlando answered and tied the game one last time on center Nikola Vucevic’s jumper with 50 seconds to play.
“Both guys came up with big plays,” Drew said of Wolters and Antetokounmpo. “Giannis knocked a big 3 and Nate knocked down a big 3, but I thought both guys made some defensive plays, getting their hands on balls. Giannis got the steal and got fouled at half-court, and Nate come up with a steal prior to that.
“Both guys played really well on both ends of the floor.”
Wolters found himself in the starting lineup for the 15th time this season after usual starter Brandon Knight suffered a cut to his foot earlier in the day.
Knight was expected to play limited minutes, but he started and played 35, scoring 18 points. He made all 12 of his free throws but shot just 3-for-13 from the floor.
“I saw him grimacing a few times when he was out on the floor,” Drew said. “I’m sure there has to be some discomfort from the pounding you take over the course of a game. Hopefully, he’s OK.”
Thanks to the All-Star break, Drew was playing with a surplus of healthy bodies for the first time in weeks.
Forward Caron Butler, who hadn’t played since Feb. 3 due to a sprained left ankle, came out of the break strong, scoring a team-leading 21 points — on seven 3-pointers — in 29 minutes off the bench.
Butler had 12 in the second quarter alone as Milwaukee went ahead by as many as 14 despite shooting just 43 percent from the field while allowing Orlando to sink half of its shots.
“Caron really got us going in the first half,” Drew said “He came in and was making shots.”
Overall, the Magic shot 50 percent from the field and made 11 of 25 3-pointers, but they went 9-for-16 from the free-throw line. Milwaukee (10-43) made 22 of 30 foul shots but hit just 42.7 percent of its field-goal attempts.
“I think the free throws were the big thing,” Orlando coach Jacque Vaughn said. “Their ability to get into the bonus, get downhill, get into the lane was a big part of them winning tonight.”
The Magic (16-39) got 21 points from guard Arron Afflalo and 19 from Vucevic. Forward Tobias Harris added 16 on 6-for-11 shooting. He added nine rebounds against his former team.
“It’s the little things of the game,” Harris said. “You have to be focused. We have to know the fouls that we have, we have to know that they’re in the (bonus). You have to be perfect, basically, you have to be almost perfect, especially on the road in a tight game, to come out and win.”
Orlando lost its 13th consecutive road game.
NOTES: Magic G Kyle O’Quinn’s seven assists were a career high. … Over his past eight games, Bucks PG Nate Wolters has 38 assists and just six turnovers. … Orlando is 3-24 on the road this season, the worst road mark in the NBA. … Bucks G O.J. Mayo, out since Jan. 25 with the flu, was available but did not play.
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.
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