Kings set to host playoff-hungry Houston

404821.jpg

Kings set to host playoff-hungry Houston

March 7, 2011

HOUSTON (32-32) vs.
KINGS (15-45)

Coverage begins at 7 P.M. on Comcast SportsNet California

SACRAMENTO (AP) -- The Houston Rockets have surged closer to being in playoff position in the Western Conference, and they'll try to continue closing the gap with a road game against the lowly Sacramento Kings.

The Rockets look to move above .500 for the first time this season when they visit the Kings on Monday night looking for their third win in as many meetings this season.

Houston (32-32) has won six of seven to move into 11th place in the West, 2 12 games out of the last playoff spot.

"Good teams play their best basketball in the months of March and April," guard Kevin Martin said after scoring 20 points in a 112-95 win over Indiana on Saturday. "For us, where we're at in the standings, we need to have a great March, no doubt about that. Guys are committed to coming in and working hard every day, practicing for games. We'll just see where this takes us."

Chase Budinger finished with 18 points and six rebounds as he continued his post-All-Star break surge. Budinger has averaged 18.0 points - up from his season average of 8.8 - the last six games.

Most promising for the Rockets is how their defense has improved. They've held three of their last four opponents to 95 or fewer points, and limited the Pacers to 41.3 percent shooting while forcing 20 turnovers.

Prior to the last four games, the Rockets allowed teams to average 108.0 points over eight contests.

Houston is 19-4 when it gives up fewer than 100 points and has won 13 consecutive games in which it has held opponents below the mark.

"We're going to continue pushing and build on the success we had (Saturday)," swingman Courtney Lee said. "We're going to get back in the gym and practice and make sure that we are mentally sharp for our next games coming up."

The Rockets will try to take advantage of this favorable matchup before playing two of their next three against Phoenix - one of the teams they're chasing for a playoff berth - sandwiched around a matchup with NBA-leading San Antonio.

Sacramento (15-45) has lost two straight, four of five and 12 of 15. It's coming off a 109-102 overtime loss at Utah on Saturday.

REWIND: Kings force OT but lose to Jazz

The Kings shot 40.9 percent from the field went 19 of 30 from the free-throw line. DeMarcus Cousins had 18 points and 18 rebounds while Francisco Garcia returned after missing 21 games with a calf injury and added 18 points.

"I was very proud of our guys, but going home with a loss we don't want to get use to that," coach Paul Westphal said. "We lost a lot of games this year. We lost a lot of games where we could have won them. We never want to accept that but at the same time we're pleased with the effort and I think our guys are growing."

Sacramento continues to be pleased with the production of new acquisition Marcus Thornton, who reached the 20-point mark for the third straight game in his first start this season. Obtained in the trade with New Orleans for Carl Landry, Thornton has averaged 21.2 points in five games with the Kings after averaging 7.8 with the Hornets.

The Rockets took the first meeting at Arco Arena 102-93 on Dec. 19. Houston has won three straight at Sacramento, where Martin has averaged 30.5 points in two visits since the Kings traded him to Houston on Feb. 18, 2010.

Cal blows huge halftime lead, dropped by Oregon on Brooks' game-winner

brooks-dillon-ap.jpg
AP

Cal blows huge halftime lead, dropped by Oregon on Brooks' game-winner

BOX SCORE

BERKELEY -- Dylan Brooks hit a 3-pointer with 0.2 seconds to play to cap a comeback from 16 points down and No. 6 Oregon beat California 68-65 on Wednesday night to keep its hopes alive for a Pac-12 title.

The Ducks (25-4, 14-2) trailed by 16 points early in the second half and were down 10 with just over 4 minutes left before rallying for the win that moved them a half-game behind Arizona for first place in the conference. Oregon holds the tiebreaker.

Brooks led the Ducks with 22 points and Chris Boucher added 18.

Jabari Bird scored 20 points to lead the way for the Golden Bears (18-9, 9-6), whose hopes for an NCAA Tournament berth were dealt a big blow with this loss.

Consecutive 3-pointers by Boucher, Dylan Ennis and Payton Pritchard cut Cal's 10-point lead to one with just under 3 minutes left. Boucher then gave the Ducks their first lead of the game with a layup that made it 62-61 with 1:48 to go.

Grant Mullins and Brooks traded jumpers before Bird missed a contested 3-pointer with 28 seconds to go. Tyler Dorsey hit one free throw before Ivan Rabb tied the game with a putback of his own miss with 9.7 seconds to play.

That set the stage for Brooks, who hit the 3 that set off a wild celebration for the Ducks.

BIG PICTURE

Oregon: The Ducks finished the season undefeated at home where they have a nation's best 42-game winning streak. They need to prove they can win away from home if they want to have success in the postseason. This comeback win was a start but the task will only get tougher in the Pac-12 and NCAA Tournaments.

California: The Bears had been seeking a signature win to boost their hopes for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. But they blew the lead and a chance at that win as they fell to 1-6 against ranked teams with the only win coming last month at then-No. 25 USC. Cal could get another shot at a top team next month in the Pac-12 Tournament.

UP NEXT

Oregon: Visits Stanford on Saturday.

California: Hosts Oregon State on Friday.

A's spring training Day 9: Alcantara trying to add new wrinkle

A's spring training Day 9: Alcantara trying to add new wrinkle

MESA, Ariz. — Right-hander Raul Alcantara, who could factor in as a starting or long relief option for the A’s, is experimenting with a split-finger fastball this spring.

Alcantara, who made five late-season starts last season in his first big league call-up, threw the pitch for the first time to hitters Tuesday, so he’s still in the infant stages with it. The A’s would like Alcantara to develop a solid third pitch to go with his fastball and changeup, though he does dabble with a curve and cutter too.

“In general, we’re looking for a ball that’s gonna dive, something where the bottom’s gonna fall out,” Oakland bullpen coach Scott Emerson said.

Alcantara, 24, faces crowded competition for the No. 5 starter spot with Jesse Hahn, Andrew Triggs and Paul Blackburn among those also going for it. Claiming the last spot in a seven-man bullpen is a possibility, though the A’s could surely utilize a second left-hander to go along with Sean Doolittle.

Making Alcantara’s case more interesting is that he’s out of minor league options, meaning he would need to make it through waivers unclaimed before the A’s could send him down.

Alcantara throws a hard changeup that clocked 86-87 miles per hour last season. Ideally, Emerson said his splitter would settle in the low 80’s.

Speaking through interpreter Juan Dorado, Alcantara said he’s gradually getting a feel for the new pitch.

“Obviously it’s a little more difficult on the hitters to know that there’s a different pitch,” he said. “They’re used to me throwing a fastball, a cutter and a change, and now implementing a split would just help me out to show them something different.”

CAMP BATTLE: Lefty Ross Detwiler, who re-signed with Oakland in the winter on a minor league deal, offers depth as a potential swing man who can start or relieve. Detwiler went 2-4 with a 6.14 ERA in nine games (seven starts) last season for the A’s. Those numbers look ugly in a short sample size, but Melvin values the veteran beyond what the stats show.

“I think he liked being here and we wanted him back.”

QUOTABLE: “I must be a little behind this year because the guys are hitting me a little harder than they normally do. Healy took me over the batter’s eye three times in a row.” — Melvin, who throws a couple rounds of batting practice every day.

NOTEWORTHY: The A’s will hold a pair of two-inning intrasquad games Thursday at the Lew Wolff Training Complex, with both set to start at 11:40 a.m.