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Dragic leads Suns over Bobcats

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PHOENIX — Phoenix guard Goran Dragic showed why he would be a capable Western Conference All-Star injury replacement in the Suns’ 105-95 win over the Charlotte Bobcats on Saturday night.

Dragic scored 15 of the Suns’ first 23 points to get the Suns off and running. He finished with 25 points on 10-for-10 shooting from the field.

Dragic has a four-game streak of scoring 20-plus points while shooting more than 50 percent from the floor and finishing with at least five assists. The last Suns player to accomplish the feat in four straight games was Steve Nash from Feb. 24-March 6, 2009.

Dragic, asked if the Suns deserve an all atar considering they are playing at a 50-win pace, said, “I think so, yes, especially with this record. I was sad, full of emotion, when I found out (he wasn’t picked as a reserve). We still have a small chance … (but) the playoffs are more important.”

Suns coach Jeff Hornacek, while acknowledging he wouldn’t mind having his star guard rest during the break, said, “Obviously, it’s a great award. I hope he gets a chance.”

The Suns (29-18) won their fifth straight, tying a season high set from Dec. 4-15.

“They’re not resting on what they’ve done so far,” Hornacek said of his players. “They want to do better.”

Suns forward Marcus Morris continued his sizzling play of late. Morris, who has been overshadowed by twin brother Markieff this season, made 5 of 9 shots from the field for 15 points.

The Bobcats dropped to 21-28.

“You can’t have many nights like that,” coach Steve Clifford said, adding his team “just didn’t try.”

“We have no effort to start the game against a team that , if you’re not ready to play and defend, you have no chance against them.

“We weren’t ready to start the game.”

Bobcats center Al Jefferson, who had set franchise records with three straight 30-plus and 11 straight 20-plus games, settled for 10 points on 4-for-15 shooting from the field.

“We wanted to just keep throwing guys at him,” Hornacek said.

Jefferson said, “We didn’t have the energy that we needed.

“We can sit here and make up all types of excuses on why we didn’t play well, but for us to try and be a playoff team…we can’t have that type of effort at all.”

Reserve Anthony Tolliver led the Bobcats with 14 points.

The Suns out-rebounded the Bobcats 51-34.

The Suns led by as many as 27 points at 90-63 to start the fourth quarter. The 10-point final margin was the closest the Bobcats came.

Phoenix is now 13-10 without guard Eric Bledsoe, who is out while recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery. The Suns, who were 16-8 with Bledsoe, hope that he can return sometime after the All-Star break.

The Suns swept the season series against the Bobcats for the seventh time in 10 seasons.

The score was tied 16-16 midway through the first quarter before Dragic scored seven straight on free throws, a pull-up jumper and a fast-break layup.

The Bobcats were within striking distance late in the first half. With the score 50-41, the Suns reeled off a 9-0 run to end the half and the Bobcats never threatened again. The Suns led by as many as 27 points, 90-63, to start the final quarter.

NOTES: The Suns have never swept a season series from the team that ends up as the No. 1 seed from the East. They just finished a 2-0 sweep of the Pacers. … Bobcats C Al Jefferson has been on a tear. Coming into the game, he had franchise-record streaks of scoring 30-plus in three straight and 20-plus in 11 straight. Jefferson burned the Suns in the past when playing for Minnesota and Utah. … Bobcats coach Steve Clifford on the Suns: “They remind me in many ways of the teams we had in Orlando. They are so quick, so skilled (and) have the one thing that we didn’t have, guys who can go off the dribble. They spread you out with their shooting but then they beat you going at matchups with just a bunch of guys who can take their guys one-on-one.”… Bobcats G Kemba Walker missed his seventh straight game with a sprained ankle. … Injured Suns G Eric Bledsoe was expected to be examined again on Saturday night. Bledsoe, who is recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery, is lifting weights and shooting free throws. The Suns hope he will play again sometime after the All-Star break.

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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