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Daniels goes from D-league to playoff hero as Rockets edge Blazers

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PORTLAND, Ore. — Two weeks ago, guard Troy Daniels played a game for the NBA Development League Rio Grande Valley Vipers. On Friday night, the rookie sank a 3-pointer with 11 seconds remaining in overtime to break a tie and spur the Houston Rockets to a 121-116 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers at the Moda Center.

“A couple of weeks ago, he was in the D-league,” Rockets guard James Harden said. “Now, he saved our season.”

Harden collected 37 points, nine rebounds and six assists for the Rockets, who won for the first time after losing the first two games of the first-round playoff series.

Guard Damian Lillard scored 30 points with six rebounds and six assists for the Trail Blazers, who play host to Game 4 on Sunday night. Forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who scored 46 and 43 points in the first two games of the series, had 19 of his 23 points after intermission.

Daniels’ game-winning basket came after a broken play in which Harden had the ball knocked from him. After a scramble, Houston guard Jeremy Lin wound up with the ball. He drove toward the basket, spotted Daniels spotted up behind the 3-point line and passed him the ball. Daniels buried the shot for a 119-116 lead.

After a timeout, Portland got the ball to forward Nicolas Batum, whose 3-point shot bounced off the rim. Harden was fouled and made a pair of foul shots with 1.1 seconds left to provide the final margin.

“We had confidence going into the game,” said Harden, who was 13-for-35 from the field, including 3 for 11 from 3-point range. “We shouldn’t have been down 0-2 in the series. We knew it would be a hostile environment tonight. (The Blazers) made a couple of runs, but we held our composure and had enough to win at the end.”

Daniels had played in only five regular-season games for Houston and hadn’t seen action in either the previous two games of the series.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Daniels, who scored nine points while making 3 of 6 shots, all from beyond the arc. “Three or four weeks ago, I was looking at these guys on TV. Now they’re teammates.”

The former Virginia Commonwealth standout said he’d made “a couple of game-winners in high school. Not in college, but I have one now in the NBA.”

“This is a little different than high school,” Harden said.

“He raised up on that last one like he’d been there before,” Lillard said of Daniels’ game-winning shot. “But you live with him shooting that shot over James Harden.”

Houston coach Kevin McHale said he decided to use Daniels for a couple of reasons.

“He’s not afraid to shoot it,” McHale said. “He knows he can shoot it. He’s a tough kid. He’s going to get his nose dirty, and we needed to get some nose-dirty plays.”

Lillard scored 16 first-half points, including a free throw with .1 of a second left, to send Portland into the third quarter with a one-point lead. Houston center Dwight Howard, who finished with 24 points and 14 rebounds, scored 12 points and Harden and Houston guard Patrick Beverley 11 apiece in the first half, though the latter pair went scoreless in the second period.

With center Omer Asik fronting Aldridge and denying him the ball, the Blazers’ All-Star managed only four points on 2-for-8 shooting in the half.

The Rockets extended the lead to 73-67 midway through the third quarter and settled for an 81-78 advantage heading into the final period.

Houston upped the margin to 90-80 on a Harden 3-pointer with 10:17 remaining. It was 96-85 with eight minutes to play when Portland guard Mo Williams buried a 3 and was fouled by Houston forward Chandler Parsons. Williams converted the free throw for a four-point play to draw the Blazers to within 96-89. Williams followed with a 22-footer to cut the margin to 96-91 with 7:11 to go.

The Rockets went back on top 102-93, but Aldridge converted a three-point play to make it 102-96 with 5:17 remaining. Moments later, Lillard sank a scoop shot and was fouled, finishing another three-point play to draw the Blazers to within 103-101 with 4:05 left.

Howard — fouled intentionally — answered with a pair at the line to make it 105-101. Batum drove for a basket with 2:55 left to cut the lead to 105-103. Fouled again, Howard made one of two, and it was 106-103.

Williams answered with two free throws to trim Houston’s edge to 106-105, and a Lillard driving layup gave Portland the lead at 107-106 with 1:59 remaining. Houston regained the lead at 108-107 on two Harden free throws with 1:41 to play, and he made two more to push the Rockets in front 110-107.

Moments later, Houston blew a golden opportunity when Lin missed a breakaway layup. Batum sank a 3 at the other end to tie it at 110-110 with 34 seconds to go. After a Harden miss, the Blazers rebounded and worked it to Lillard, who missed a step-back 3. The Rockets rebounded, calling timeout with 3.3 seconds left.

Harden’s desperation attempt from midcourt was off, and it was on to overtime.

NOTES: Houston G James Harden has made 27 of 82 shots from the field in the series. …the Rockets were 12 for 31 from 3-point range after going 11 for 51 from beyond the arc in the first two games. … The road team has won all three games in the series, with two of the games going to overtime. … Portland G Damian Lillard is the first Blazer with 30 points, six rebounds and six assists in a playoff game since G Terry Porter in 1992.

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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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