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Warriors in deeper hole after Harden-less Rockets rout Mavericks

Warriors in deeper hole after Harden-less Rockets rout Mavericks

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DALLAS -- Eric Gordon scored 26 points and Chris Paul had 24 points and 12 assists as the Houston Rockets, playing without James Harden, beat the Dallas Mavericks 105-82 on Sunday night.

The Rockets rested Harden because of a sore left knee, but had plenty of 3-point shooting even without their MVP candidate.

Houston, which had its 17-game win streak snapped Friday in Toronto, broke the game open in the third quarter by hitting their first six 3s of the period amid a 22-10 run. The Rockets finished 17-for-45 from beyond the arc.

Paul either scored or assisted on the first 20 points of the quarter and finished the quarter with 12 points and five assists as Houston outscored Dallas 32-16.

The Rockets moved 1 1/2 games ahead of Golden State for the best record in the NBA after the Warriors lost to Minnesota earlier Sunday. Houston also holds the tiebreaker on Golden State should the teams finish with identical records.

Houston swept the four-game season series from the Mavericks for the second year in a row. The Mavericks' last win over the Rockets came in the final week of the 2015-16 season, the last time Dallas made the playoffs and the last time Houston did not.

Dwight Powell led the Mavericks with 20 points, one short of his career high, on 9-of-11 shooting. Harrison Barnes added 14.

Houston went on an early 14-0 run behind eight points from Gordon to go up 17-3. The Mavericks came back, taking their first lead at 38-37 on Smith's lay-up with 4:31 left in the second quarter.

Dallas led by six with two minutes left in the half, but the Rockets scored eight of the last nine points to go up 48-47 at the break.

TIP-INS:
Rockets: Coach Mike D'Antoni said Harden should be available Monday against San Antonio. The Rockets are 5-3 without him in the lineup. ... Houston used its 13th different starting lineup of the year. ... D'Antoni was on hand in nearby Frisco, Texas, to watch his alma mater Marshall, coached by his brother Dan, win the Conference USA Tournament final Saturday. The Thundering Herd beat Western Kentucky 67-66 for their first NCAA Tournament berth since 1987.

Mavericks: Barea assisted on nine of the Mavericks' first 10 field goals. ... Dallas signed F Jameel Warney to a 10-day contract. Warney has averaged 20 points in 40 games for the Mavericks' G-League affiliate, the Texas Legends. Warney entered in the fourth quarter and scored five points. ... Dorian Finney-Smith, who played Saturday after missing 51 with a quadriceps injury, sat out Sunday. Wesley Matthews and Salah Mejri also sat out for the Mavericks.

UP NEXT:
Rockets: Host the Spurs on Monday for the second half of a back-to-back.

Mavericks: Start a four-game road trip Tuesday at the Knicks. Dallas plays 10 of its final 15 on the road.

Is 34-year-old Blanco faster in second stint with Giants?

blanco.jpg
USATSI

Is 34-year-old Blanco faster in second stint with Giants?

SCOTTSDALE — Gregor Blanco turned 34 years old a few weeks before signing with the Giants, so it seems unlikely that he’s faster than he was during his first stint with the organization, which started six years ago. And yet...Blanco sure does look to have an extra step.

“I feel like I am (faster), to tell you the truth,” Blanco said. 

Teammates and team officials have noticed. Bruce Bochy has repeatedly said that Blanco looks like he’s still in his twenties, and after he legged out an easy triple — his second of the spring — on Sunday, Hunter Pence noted that Blanco looks faster. Pence said Blanco has opened eyes with his explosive work in the weight room.

“You watch some of what he’s doing...it’s incredible,” Pence said. 

Blanco has made speed work his emphasis, doing work with training bands and mixing in plenty of box jumps. He said Pence is actually the one who deserves credit. Blanco overhauled his workout routine after seeing Pence’s work on explosiveness when the two were teammates the first time. He has continued to tweak things. Blanco said he recently ran a 6.4-second 60-yard dash. 

“The last time I did that was when I was like 16 years old,” he said, laughing. 

According to Statcast’s Sprint Speed metric, Blanco was one of the fastest players in the big leagues last year at the age of 33. He was as fast as Jarrod Dyson, known as a burner, and he entered camp as the fastest Giant (Steven Duggar hasn’t been tracked by Statcast yet). That skill gives him a leg up on others. The Giants did so many things poorly last season that sometimes it got lost just how little speed they had on the field, and Bochy has noticed the dimension Blanco has added to his roster once again. 

“It’s like he hasn’t changed,” Bochy said. “We’ve all gotten older but he looks exactly the same as when he came in as a non-roster (invitee) in 2012.”

Bochy continues to talk about how competitive the race for the final two outfield spots is, but at this point, Blanco looks like a pretty good bet to once again be wearing orange and black on opening day. 

--- Pablo Sandoval made a nifty play in the fifth when Andres Blanco’s throw to first went up the line. Sandoval jumped off the bag and swipe-tagged Freddy Galvis as he ran by. Sandoval was pretty much a roster lock coming into the spring, and he has done nothing to hurt his status. He looks pretty agile at first, which could come into play at some point. The staff has not fully shelved the idea of Brandon Belt playing the outfield against certain pitchers. 

Sandoval said he hasn’t caught any bullpen sessions yet, but he still plans to as he prepares to be an emergency catcher. He was slowed a bit in recent days after jamming his hand taking a swing. 

--- Mark Melancon gave up a solo homer to Jose Pirela, but otherwise had a good day. He struck out Eric Hosmer and got Wil Myers and Hunter Renfroe to ground out. The appearance was Melancon’s second of the spring, and his stuff looked pretty crisp. Melancon has mentioned some lingering arm discomfort, but there don’t seem to be any issues when he’s on the mound. 

--- Pence hit a grand slam and talked about some of the things he’s trying to do with his swing this spring. Here’s video of the blast. 

Mired in rough spring, Pence finally breaks through with first-inning grand slam

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AP

Mired in rough spring, Pence finally breaks through with first-inning grand slam

SCOTTSDALE — Hunter Pence is preparing for his 12th big league season, so he probably wasn’t too worried that he carried a .105 batting average into Sunday’s game. But that doesn’t mean a first-inning grand slam didn’t carry some significance. 

“It matters,” Pence said. “These games, we’re competing. I got the opportunity with some guys table-setting and (Luis Perdomo) had thrown a bunch of balls so I tried to be ready if he threw one over the plate.”

Perdomo’s first pitch did just that and Pence crushed it to straightaway center. The 440-foot blast was his first of the spring and carried over the momentum he started to feel in his third at-bat Saturday. Pence said he tried to close his stance earlier this spring, but he opened back up after striking out twice in his first two at-bats Saturday, and he ended up with a single to right. He kept his stance open Sunday and felt he had more balance.

“I feel better about the path (of the swing) and my balance,” he said. “I was a little off-balance before, getting a little jumpy.”

When Pence isn’t right, he often looks like he’s lunging at the ball. But he’s working on his timing with new assistant hitting coach Rick Schu, who has been showing him videos and photos of his swing from times when he was having success. Pence has also been doing swing work in front of the mirror, trying to find the right foundation.

Sunday’s results surely had the staff breathing a bit easier. Pence had been off to a rough start, and it looked like some of last year’s struggles would carry over. At the same time, the Giants have seen younger outfielders, particularly Mac Williamson, take serious strides. Pence didn’t seem to be hearing any footsteps. He lit up when asked about Williamson’s revamped swing, which has led to four homers this spring. 

“He’s such a strong athlete and now he’s got a foundation that he can trust,” Pence said.