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Blazers’ Aldridge returns in win over Nuggets

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PORTLAND, Ore. — It was a “welcome back, LaMarcus Aldridge” Saturday night at the Moda Center and the Portland Trail Blazers celebrated with a 102-96 victory over the Denver Nuggets.

Aldridge, who had missed the previous five games with a groin strain, scored 16 points, grabbed seven rebounds and played 30 minutes as the Blazers (41-18) completed a 4-0 sweep in their season series with the Nuggets.

“My timing was a little off, but it felt good to be back out there playing with the guys,” said Portland’s All-Star forward, who entered the game with season averages of 23.9 points and 11.4 rebounds. “I was a little tired, but my body felt good, my conditioning felt good.”

Aldridge’s presence opened things up for his teammates at the offensive end.

“You bring back a 24 and 12 guy, it changes everything,” Portland forward Nicolas Batum said. “We got more shots all over the court. It was big for us.”

Center Robin Lopez scored a game-high 18 points and had nine rebounds, guard Damian Lillard added 17 points and Batum contributed nine points, a career-high 16 rebounds and six assists for the Blazers (41-18), who won their fifth straight game.

“It would have been nice if Nic could have gotten a triple-double,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “I don’t know how many times I’ve said it in the last year and a half — he does a little bit of everything, depending on the game.”

Forward Kenneth Faried collected 16 points and 10 rebounds and guard Evan Fournier had 16 points, seven rebounds and four assists for the Nuggets (25-33), who lost for the 10th time in 11 outings. Even so, it was a step up from their previous performance — a 112-89 loss at home to the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday night.

“A lot better effort from our team tonight,” Denver coach Brian Shaw said. “The guys came out and competed.”

Portland was 23 of 24 from the foul line. Denver was 23 of 35.

“That was the difference in the game,” Shaw said. “You lose by six points and you miss 12 free throws.”

Denver cut an eight-point halftime deficit to 60-55 four minutes into the third quarter. The Trail Blazers outscored the Nuggets 13-5 during the next three minutes to increase the margin to 73-60. The Blazers took an 84-73 lead into the fourth quarter.

The Nuggets scored the first five points of the fourth quarter to close the margin to 84-78. Portland’s edge was 88-82 when guard Will Barton’s 3-pointer started an 8-2 run that made it 96-84.

Denver kept coming, getting to within 100-93 on a Faried free throw with 1:25 remaining. Forward Wilson Chandler sank 1 of 2 at the line with 49.7 seconds left to snip the margin to 100-94.

The Nuggets had two possessions to get closer but failed to score. Aldridge made two at the line to seal the deal for the Blazers with 12.4 seconds to play.

Portland shot 52.4 percent from the field in the first quarter in spurting to a 32-24 lead. Guard Randy Foye, who finished with 16 points, kept the Nuggets in it by knocking down three 3-pointers and scoring nine points in the quarter.

It was 35-26 before Denver began to close the gap, drawing to within 43-38. Portland settled for a 56-48 advantage at the half, with Lopez (12 points, six rebounds) and Lillard (11 points) leading the way. Faried and Foye each had 10 points at the break.

NOTES: In Portland’s 100-95 win at Denver on Tuesday, the Nuggets outrebounded the Blazers 64-41, grabbing 27 off the offensive glass. On Saturday night, the Blazers won the board battle 52-40, with the Nuggets getting only 10 at the offensive end. … Portland won despite making 5 of 27 shots from 3-point range. The Blazers entered the game fourth in the NBA in 3-point percentage at .382. … Portland reserve C Meyers Leonard, who had missed the previous five games with a sprained ankle, had eight points and five rebounds in 16 minutes. Still missing from the Blazers’ frontcourt are reserves C Joel Freeland and F Thomas Robinson, both out with knee injuries. … Denver welcomed back F Wilson Chandler (knee), who started and had 14 points, and F Darrell Arthur (hip), who contributed 12 points off the bench on 6-of-7 shooting from the field. … Denver coach Brian Shaw — who turns 48 on March 22 and retired as a player in 2003 — suited up and went through drills with his players during Saturday’s shootaround. “Every once in awhile I try to do that to get the guys more engaged,” Shaw said. “They seem to want to go harder when they go against me.”

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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