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Clippers roll past Pelicans

The Sports Xchange

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LOS ANGELES — After the New Orleans Pelicans suffered a seventh straight loss, coach Monty Williams said the team hit rock bottom.

“This is the worst loss we’ve had this year,” Williams said after the Los Angeles Clippers pounded the Pelicans 108-76 on Saturday night at the Staples Center. “And the character of our locker room is going to have to respond instead of just talking about it.”

Defense spoke volumes for the Clippers (41-20), who frustrated the Pelicans offensively and coasted to their fourth straight win and their seventh in the last nine games. The Clippers beat the Pelicans (23-26) for the sixth consecutive time and for the second time in the past five days.

Point guard Chris Paul had 21 points and eight assists, and forward Blake Griffin added 20 points for Los Angeles. Both played only three quarters. For Griffin, it was the 19th consecutive game that he has scored at least 20 points.

Clippers guard Darren Collison had 15 points.

“I think tonight was about our defense,” said Paul, who hit 7 of 11 shots from the floor. “It’s not about me, it’s not about Blake, (DeAndre Jordan), it’s about our team. It just felt like this was our best defensive game.”

The Clippers forced the Pelicans to miss 12 of their initial 14 shots from the floor. Overall, they held the Pelicans to 32.9 percent shooting (28 of 85) from the field while converting 46.9 percent (38 of 81).

New Orleans also missed 19 of its 22 attempts from behind the 3-point arc (13.6 percent). The Clippers hit 9 of 25 3-pointers (36 percent).

“We didn’t come ready to play,” Williams said. “That’s my responsibility, but it’s also the responsibility of our team, especially the leaders of our team. Our starting unit was collectively not ready to go tonight. Tyreke gave us a lot of juice, but outside of that, we didn’t have much of anything.”

The Pacific Division-leading Clippers did whatever they wanted, building a big lead early and keeping the Pelicans at a distance. Los Angeles led by as many as 21 points in the first half en route to a 51-36 lead at the break.

Griffin and Paul each scored 14 points in the first half. The Clippers held New Orleans to 30.6 percent shooting from the field (15 of 49) and shot 47.2 percent (17 of 36) in the first half.

“We couldn’t throw it in the ocean,” Williams said.

In the third quarter, Los Angeles continued to pour it on. The Clippers increased the margin to 27 after a free throw by Jordan, who finished with 12 rebounds, four blocks and seven points, with 3:41 remaining in the third before taking a 79-56 advantage to end the quarter.

“There were times tonight where it seemed like guys were just flying around,” Griffin said. “The best part about it was we were up 10, 15, whatever it was, I thought our defense stayed solid, for the most part.”

The Clippers outscored New Orleans 25-2 in fast-break points.

Forward Matt Barnes, who hit four of his eight 3-pointers, had 14 points and six rebounds for Los Angeles.

Guard Tyreke Evans had 22 points, nine rebounds and five assists for New Orleans. Reserve guard Austin Rivers chipped in 19 points. Center Alexis Ajinca had 11 points and 10 rebounds.

Pelicans forward Anthony Davis, who scored a career-tying 32 points in a loss to the Phoenix Suns on Friday night, had a rough night. Davis finished with eight points and four rebounds in 20 foul-plagued minutes.

“They were more physical than us the whole game,” said Davis, who managed just 1-of-6 shooting from the floor. “We played soft tonight. You can’t come out playing that soft against a team like that.”

NOTES: Clippers F Danny Granger, who was scheduled to make his debut, was inactive for the game because the club’s coaching staff failed to add him to the active roster an hour before tip-off. In addition, Granger got lost before the game. “I must have been here a thousand times playing throughout the years and I still could not find the players’ entrance to drive in,” said Granger, who signed as a free agent on Friday after receiving a buyout from the Philadelphia 76ers two days earlier. “I drove around Staples (Center) like five times.” Still, Granger believes he will have no trouble being a key contributor to the Clippers. “It’s an up-tempo type of system,” Granger said, “It’s a system I have thrived in in the past.” … Los Angeles G Jamal Crawford, who did not play, is listed as day to day. Crawford strained his left calf in Wednesday’s win over the Houston Rockets. … Pelicans coach Monty Williams shook up the lineup and started G-F Tyreke Evans and C Alexis Ajinca.

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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