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Bobcats win 4th straight, top Grizzlies

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Charlotte Bobcats have been terrible on the second night of back-to-backs much of the season, but that all changed this week.

The Bobcats completed a sweep of four games in five nights with a 92-89 victory over the previously red-hot Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday night in what goes down as their first four-game winning streak since 2011.

On a night that center Al Jefferson was held to a season-low six points, guard Kemba Walker picked up the slack with 31 points, eight rebounds and five assists, and the Bobcats’ reserves played a key role in a 15-1 run early in the fourth quarter.

Walker ultimately sealed the win with four free throws in the final 24.4 seconds, and Memphis guard Mike Conley missed two potentially tying 3-point attempts in the final five seconds.

“We knew that we’ve been struggling as a team on back-to-backs and we wanted to put our focus on that,” Walker said. “We wanted to continue our momentum, and that’s what we did. The coaching staff did a great job of preparing us, getting us ready to play these games, and we just go out there and try to execute and play as hard as possible and do the smart things to win basketball games. And that’s what we’ve done.”

The Bobcats swept Detroit in a home-and-home back-to-back on Tuesday and Wednesday, and then followed up a win over New Orleans on Friday with this victory. They came into Saturday night’s game 4-12 on the second night of back-to-backs, and had lost eight straight at one point.

“This should give us confidence,” Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said. “It’s hard to win an NBA game. And to win four in a row against good teams to play this well tonight in a game that was that hard-fought, you have to feel good about it.”

The Bobcats are now 27-30 and seventh and rising in the Eastern Conference standings.

Even more encouraging is the fact that the Bobcats were able to beat a quality opponent without relying on Jefferson, who had scored 30 or more in seven of his previous 11 games, including 33 against New Orleans on Friday.

Jefferson finished just 2 of 13 from the field, and was content late to set screens for Walker and others.

Walker scored 11 of his 31 in the fourth quarter. Forward Josh McRoberts had 12 points and forward Anthony Tolliver had nine — all in a 15-1 spurt that allowed the Bobcats to pull out to a 13-point lead early in the fourth quarter before the Grizzlies answered with a 15-2 run of their own.

“It just shows that we have guys that can step up,” Walker said. “Tonight I scored a lot of points, but the guy who gave us a huge push was Josh. He made a lot of great plays that won’t show up in the stat sheet. That’s what we have to do when Al’s not playing well.”

The Grizzlies, who had won 16 of their previous 20, had a four-game winning streak snapped. They are now 31-24.

Conley led the Grizzlies with 16 points, but was just 0-for-5 from 3-point range including the two misses in the closing seconds.

Center Marc Gasol scored 15 points in addition to doing yeoman’s defensive work on Jefferson, and forward Zach Randolph had 12 points and 11 rebounds.

Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger was upset about his team’s 15 turnovers, and an 11-0 Charlotte run to open the third quarter.

“We threw the ball all over the gym tonight and they had more energy than we did,” he said. “In the first seven possessions of the second half we had three turnovers and three baskets that barely hit the rim. They got flowing and we were playing catch-up after that. It wasn’t about what happened at the end, it’s about not coming out in the second half with a six-point lead.

“But I thought they (Charlotte) played really hard. I thought they took care of the basketball. They are well-coached and they protected the lane. They are a good team.”

NOTES: The NBA formally approved the Bobcats’ acquisition of G Gary Neal and G Luke Ridnour from Milwaukee, but neither was in uniform Saturday night. They’ll make their Bobcats debuts next Friday at San Antonio. … Bobcats coach Steve Clifford was initially leery of the upcoming five-day break in the schedule, but now he loves it because it’ll give Neal and Ridnour several practices to learn the system. … Bobcats G Ben Gordon played 20 minutes and was 1 for 7 from the field, on a day when reports surfaced that the team is looking to buy out his contract. … The Bobcats have not had C Brendan Haywood (stress fracture left foot) any this season, and have lost F Jeffery Taylor (ruptured right Achilles) for the rest of the season. Clifford said that Haywood will see the doctor again in two weeks, but there is still no time frame for his return. … Bobcats F Chris Douglas-Roberts was sporting six stitches under his eye after being elbowed in the Bobcats’ win over New Orleans. … The Grizzlies were without G Quincy Pondexter (stress fracture, right foot), but got G Tony Allen back on Friday against the Clippers. … The Grizzlies will return home to face the Lakers on Wednesday.

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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