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Balanced Bucks end dry spell in Orlando

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ORLANDO, Fla. — The Milwaukee Bucks have flaws like most every team still hovering around .500, but good depth is not one of them.

The Bucks showed just how deep they are Thursday night by spanking the Orlando Magic 115-100 in a game that was never close in the second half.

The Bucks had seven players reach double figures, despite playing without injured starters Ersan Ilyasova and Zaza Pachulia and suspended Larry Sanders.

“All season long, our motto has kind of been ‘next man up,'” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. “The next guy in line steps up. Our bench has been good all year.”

Reserve guard Jerryd Bayless scored 19 points in 20 minutes to lead the Bucks, but he had plenty of help in a well-balanced, share-the-ball attack.

Forward Jared Dudley and guard Khris Middleton had 17 points apiece. Guard Brandon Knight had 16 points and nine assists, and guard O.J. Mayo scored 13. Third-string center John Henson, in his first start of the season, finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Forward Giannis Antetokounmpo contributed 10 points.

“Everybody we have can play,” Henson said. “It’s just a matter of getting your opportunity to prove it. Tonight, we moved the ball and played well defensively. Just a great team effort. That’s just the way this team is.”

The Bucks (24-22) also snapped a 17-game losing streak in Orlando, dating to 2004. The Magic (15-34) lost their seventh consecutive game.

Magic guard Victor Oladipo had 21 points and five rebounds, and center Nikola Vucevic added 17 points and a game-high 14 rebounds. Reserve guard Willie Green scored 16 points, point guard Elfrid Payton added 15 and guard Evan Fournier had 11.

“I’m really surprised by the result of tonight’s game,” Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. “I thought our energy and focus going into the game was good. I think we did press a little bit throughout the game, when they jumped on us. We didn’t respond.”

The Bucks, who were without three key frontcourt players, never trailed. The Magic never got closer than 11 points in the second half and never seriously challenged after intermission.

The Magic committed 24 turnovers, including 19 in the first three quarters when they fell hopelessly behind by 29 points. Orlando’s opponent scored at least 100 points for the 11th consecutive game. The Bucks cracked triple digits with 8:54 remaining on a layup by Mayo.

“We miss the guys who weren’t out there tonight, but we find a way to compensate,” Bayless said. “Every night, it’s a different guy.”

The Magic held a 49-38 edge in rebounds, but their poor defense was a problem again. Milwaukee made 45 of 87 shots from the field (51.7 percent). They made 12 of 25 (48 percent) from 3-point range. The Magic allowed too many easy layups, too.

“It’s a learning process. They were shooting the cover off it,” Oladipo said. “But teams get hot like that. You have to deal with it and respond better than we did.”

The Bucks, who led by 15 points at halftime, increased the margin in a hot-shooting third quarter when they went 16 of 23 from the floor. Knight had 14 points in the quarter, hitting 6 of 8.

Milwaukee led 96-71 at the end of three quarters after holding a 59-44 edge at intermission.

The Bucks rode an early, well-balanced offensive surge when all 10 players scored at least two points in the first half.

They led by as many as 20 points in the second quarter and the Magic had 13 turnovers before halftime.

“We don’t depend on one guy to come out and score 20,” Mayo said. “We get people involved. We just play together and move the ball.”

NOTES: The Bucks were without C Zaza Pachulia and F Ersan Ilyasova, weakening their front line considerably. Both were hurt Tuesday in a win at Miami. Pachulia injured his calf and Ilyasova left in the first quarter after aggravating a previous groin injury. “We have enough bodies to compete,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said earlier in the day. … The Bucks already were without C Larry Sanders, who started 26 games this season before being suspended Jan. 16 by the NBA for violating its anti-drug program. … The injuries made it an easier decision Wednesday for the Bucks to sign 37-year-old veteran F Kenyon Martin for the rest of the season. Martin had finished his second 10-day contract. He and Kidd had played together with both the Nets and the Knicks. … Magic C Nikola Vucevic and Bucks G Brandon Knight previously expressed faint hopes of making the Eastern Conference All-Star team that was announced Thursday, but neither was selected.

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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Rockets spoil Griffin’s return in testy affair

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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.

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Spurs’ Ginobili sprains ankle

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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.

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NBA notebook: Clippers’ Griffin cleared to return

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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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