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Dragic, Suns ease past Hawks

The Sports Xchange



ATLANTA — A team like the Phoenix Suns, loaded with a variety of offensive weapons, can come at an opponent from a lot of different angles. On Monday night, the attack was led by guard Goran Dragic.

Dragic used a combination of outside jumpers and drives to the basket to score 19 points, helping the Suns defeat the Atlanta Hawks 102-95 and move a step closer to the playoffs.

“They have some good, penetrating guards,” Atlanta forward Paul Millsap said. “They get in the lane and make plays. They’re surrounded by shooters, so you have to pick your poison.”

Dragic scored the last six points of the third quarter to punctuate an 18-9 run and send the Suns to their fourth consecutive victory. The five-year veteran shot 8-for-15 from the field and added six assists.

With the win, Phoenix (42-29) tied the idle Dallas Mavericks for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Both teams trail the Memphis Grizzlies by a half-game.

Dragic was one of five players who scored in double figures for Phoenix, joining guard Eric Bledsoe (20), forward Channing Frye (18), forward Markieff Morris (17) and guard Gerald Green (13).

“The first group got us going,” Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek said. “And they did it again at the beginning of the third quarter.”

Green, who scored 33 against Atlanta in the teams’ first meeting, scored nine during a 10-3, fourth-quarter spurt that put the game away.

“He’s instant offense,” Hornacek said. “It’s fun when he gets it going. He provides a big spark.”

Atlanta (31-38) was led by Millsap and forward DeMarre Carroll, who each scored 19. Guards Lou Williams and Jeff Teague contributed 17 pieces apiece.

It was the most points for Williams since he had 18 against the Indiana Pacers on Feb. 18. Williams was in the doghouse for a month and did not play in seven consecutive games. With guard Kyle Korver sidelined due to back spasms, Williams played 27 minutes and made two 3-pointers.

“That was one of the positives from tonight,” Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Lou had a good bounce. Lou played decisively, which is a good word to use. He really helped us a lot in the first half.”

The loss was the third straight for Atlanta, which saw its lead for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference shrink to 2 1/2 games over the idle New York Knicks.

Phoenix made 12 3-pointers, three short of its season high, enough to keep Atlanta honest. Frye hit four and Bledsoe sank three, matching his career best.

“We shot the 3-ball pretty well throughout the game,” Hornacek said. “We’re doing a good job finding the hot guy and knowing where he likes the ball.”

Phoenix, which scored 79 points in the first half against the Hawks on March 2, looked as if it had another big night planned. The Suns raced out to an 11-2 lead before Atlanta began to slug its way back into the game, drawing within 25-23 after the first period.

The Hawks tied the game when Williams made a jumper on the first trip down the court in the second period. Atlanta then took its first lead at 27-25 when Williams made two free throws. Phoenix tied the game at 27-27, then went more than three minutes before scoring again, which allowed Atlanta to seize the momentum and take a 34-27 lead on a jumper by Millsap.

“We were trying to execute our plays and got soft with our passes and soft with our hands,” Hornacek said.

Phoenix cut the lead on back-to-back 3-pointers by Marcus Morris and Frye, but Atlanta held a 45-42 halftime lead. Williams had 10 points in the half, his first double-digit game since March 2 in Phoenix.

Atlanta built an eight-point lead in the third quarter before Phoenix got its offense cranked up again. After knotting the score at 59-59, the Suns outscored the Hawks 10-2 and sailed to a 77-66 lead after the third.

“A few guys made some shots,” Budenholzer said. “Frye was making shots the whole game. Dragic got to the paint, especially late to finish the quarter. Everybody contributed.”

The comeback was hardly epic by Phoenix standards. The Suns erased a 22-point deficit to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves in their previous game. It was another case of Atlanta failing to hold the lead; the Hawks blew a 14-point fourth-quarter lead in losing their to the Raptors on Sunday in Toronto.

NOTES: Atlanta G Kyle Korver missed his third consecutive game because of back spasms. The Hawks hope to have Korver back for Wednesday’s road game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, but they may not know until the day of the game. Shelvin Mack again started in place of Korver, and he scored five points. … Also out with injuries for Atlanta were C Al Horford (right pectoral muscle surgery), G John Jenkins (lower back surgery) and F Gustavo Ayon (right shoulder surgery). Phoenix was without C Emeka Okafor (herniated disk) and G Leandro Barbosa (left hand fracture). … Phoenix completes a three-game trip to the East with a game Wednesday at Washington.

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.


NBA News Wire

Rockets spoil Griffin’s return in testy affair

The Sports Xchange



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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NBA News Wire

Irving leads Cavaliers to rout of Magic

The Sports Xchange



ORLANDO — Cleveland guard Kyrie Irving is in the midst of an incredible shooting zone. And he’s loving every minute of it. Irving followed his NBA-best, 57-point scoring burst on Thursday with a more-efficient, 33-point effort Sunday, leading the Cavaliers to a 123-108 victory over the outmatched Orlando Magic.

Irving was sensational again.

In the last two games, Irving has made 12 of 13 shots from 3-point range. He has made 32 of 47 shots overall. He made the Cavs look unstoppable.

“It’s just a feel, an overall body feel right now,” Irving said. “The basketball feels a little bit better. It’s a fun game right now, and it’s fun to be part of something like this.”

Irving made 12 of his 15 shots Sunday and hit five of six from 3-point range, finding time to add four rebounds and four assists in leading the Cavs (43-25) to their fourth consecutive victory.

“Someone did ask me (before the game), what does he do for an encore (after his 57 point effort),” said Cavs coach David Blatt. “I didn’t have a good answer, But 12 of 15 from the field, in 34 minutes. That’s a pretty good encore. And he played right, which is the most important thing. It’s not the scoring as much as it is him just being engaged, locked in.”

LeBron James happily provided the perfect complement and setup man. He had 21 points, 13 assists, eight rebounds, and three steals, creating opportunities for everyone else. The Cavs buried the Magic by making 18 of 35 3-point shots, most of which were wide open.

Guard J.R. Smith scored 25 points, leading the 3-point onslaught by making six of his 10 from long range.

“I thought LeBron seemed to be seeing everyone in the gym tonight,” Blatt said. “And he threw it to them in the shooting pocket, and it seemed like that made every one. It seemed like he found guys in the eighth row that could make an open shot tonight.”

The Cavs received a brief scare midway in the third period when James went up to contest a shot and landed awkwardly, twisting his right knee. He continued to play and looked fine, but he raised the issue about his availability for Monday’s game in Miami.

“A scary moment for myself obviously,” he said. “I’ll see how I feel tomorrow and go from there. I haven’t had one of those falls in a pretty long time. I was happy to stay in the game.”

The Cavs made 45 of 76 shots (59.2 percent). The Magic (21-47) made 42 of 88 (47.7 percent, but they never seriously challenged in the second half, even though they closed to nine points twice in the fourth quarter.

Magic guard Victor Olidipo had 25 points and seven assists. Center Nikola Vucevic had 22 points and 15 rebounds. Rookie point guard Elfrid Payton had 13 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists. Forward Tobias Harris had 24 points and eight rebounds. Reserve guard Luke Ridnour had a season-high 15 points.

Irving made his first four 3-point attempts, giving him 11 consecutive 3-pointers without a miss, dating back to his 7-for-7 effort Thursday against San Antonio. He finally missed from 3-point range midway in the third period.

The Magic twice fouled Smith while he was shooting beyond the 3-point line, accounting for all five of his free throws.

“That’s a tough team. You have to give them credit,” Harris said. “They have a lot of options out there, and guys who can make tough shots. It’s just overall tough for us against a team like that.”

The Cavaliers led 100-86 going into the fourth quarter. Smith made a trio of 3-pointers in the third period, helping hold off every Magic charge in the period.

Smith hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Cavaliers a 84-68 lead. Irving hit a pair of 3-pointers earlier in the period.

The Cavaliers led 66-55 at intermission, riding a red-hot shooting start and a 40-point second quarter. They made 26 of 42 shots (61.9 percent) and eight of their 16 3-point attempts in the first half.

Irving hit both of his 3-pointers in the first half. The Magic held a 28-16 rebound edge in the first half, but they couldn’t keep pace with the Cavaliers, who exploded in the second period when they made 16 of their 20 shots.

The Magic led the entire first quarter. Forward James Jones gave the Cavaliers their first lead when he opened the second with a 3-pointer.

Vucevic and Harris each had 14 points by halftime. James had 15 points and six assists before intermission. Irving made six of his first seven shots for 14 points.

NOTES: The Cavaliers were without PF Kevin Love (sore back), but they were helped by the return of veteran Shawn Marion, who missed the past three weeks with a strained hip muscle. F Tristan Thompson started in Love’s place. … The Magic were without reserve G Willie Green, who missed his third consecutive game with lower back spasms and F Evan Fournier, who missed his eighth consecutive game with a sore right hip. … A quirk in the schedule gave the Cavs two-plus days in balmy Orlando before the game Sunday. The extra time gave one fan of James the opportunity to invite him Friday to his wedding reception Saturday night at the posh hotel where the Cavs were staying. James politely declined.

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NBA News Wire

Spurs’ Ginobili sprains ankle

The Sports Xchange



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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