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Bobcats roll to 124-94 win over Blazers

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It does not get much better than this for the Charlotte Bobcats.

The Bobcats crushed the Portland Trail Blazers 124-94 on Saturday night with a dominant performance both offensively and defensively.

Center Al Jefferson led the way with 28 points, all in the first three quarters as he sat the entire fourth with the Bobcats ahead by as many as 34. Guard Kemba Walker scored 26 points and guard Gerald Henderson added 23, again in just three quarters.

And the Bobcats held the normally high-scoring Trail Blazers to 40.5 percent shooting from the field.

“To me, it all started with defense,” Jefferson said. “I think that set the tone. But then when we play offense as well as that, it’s trouble. It’s trouble. When we play like that, we’re going to be hard to beat.”

The Bobcats (34-36) snapped a two-game losing streak with the win and also got some revenge for a 134-104 loss at Portland on Jan. 2.

Jefferson said that combination created a perfect storm of sorts on Saturday night.

“We remembered the butt-whipping they gave us over there, and then we had lost two in a row, so I think all that just played together and we came out with a great start,” Jefferson said. “You could tell at shootaround today that we were focused, we were locked in, and we knew we needed this win badly.”

The Blazers (45-25) were without center LaMarcus Aldridge, their leading scorer and rebounder, who missed his fifth straight game with a low back contusion. That, too, clearly played a role in the blowout.

“We caught a break obviously with Aldridge being out, but they are a really skilled team and I think they are as well-coached offensively as any team, and our defense was something,” Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said. “You could tell they were really ready to play.”

The Bobcats raced to a 12-2 lead and never let up. They led 33-22 after one quarter, 69-46 at halftime and 98-73 after three quarters. Through three quarters, Jefferson, Walker and Henderson had combined to score more points than the entire Portland team.

It marked the third time this season that Jefferson, Walker and Henderson have all scored 20 or more in the same game.

The Bobcats finished at 52.1 percent from the field, were 18 of 19 from the free-throw line and hit 8 of 19 from 3-point range, led by four from Walker.

“What I liked tonight was, the jump shots tonight were inside out,” Clifford said. “They were more drive and kick, or ball in the paint and kick out vs. the Atlanta game (Monday loss) where we just passed it around the perimeter all night.

“The other thing I liked was, when Portland got it down to 17 in the second half, you could just sense that we were going to push it back up. That all comes with being ready to play. We put a lot into this game. We put a lot into getting ready for this game, and it showed.”

The Bobcats also got 11 points from forward Chris Douglas-Roberts.

Guard Damian Lillard led Portland with 20 points. Forward Dorell Wright scored 17 and guard Wesley Matthews had 15.

Portland coach Terry Stotts was not ready to write off the performance as just a bad night. The Blazers have now lost six of their last nine.

“You don’t want to just dismiss it as one of those games,” Stotts said. “You want to learn from it. Losing by 30 is, hopefully it’s one of those things, but we don’t have the luxury not to play better.

“Charlotte played a terrific game. They shot the ball well, passed the ball well, rebounded the ball well, defended well, and basically outplayed us. We certainly could have played better, but they were clicking on all cylinders.”

NOTES: This was Charlotte’s first victory over Portland since 2011. … The Bobcats’ 124 points were their most in a game this season, and their 69 points in the first half were also a season high. … The Blazers are now 3-2 in this stretch without F LaMarcus Aldridge. They were also without C Joel Freeland (right knee sprain) on Saturday night. … The Blazers were opening a five-game road trip. They will continue on at Miami on Monday and will also play at Orlando, Atlanta and Chicago on the trip. … Bobcats F D.J. White was in uniform for the first time since signing a 10-day contract on Friday, and he wound up playing the final four minutes, going scoreless. … The Bobcats were without C Brendan Haywood (stress fracture left foot) and F Jeffery Taylor (ruptured right Achilles). Both will miss the rest of the season. … The Bobcats were opening a three-game homestand. They face Houston on Monday.

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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