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Hayward’s all-around effort lifts Jazz past Suns

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SALT LAKE CITY — During the first three seasons of his NBA career, Utah Jazz shooting guard Gordon Hayward developed a great relationship with Jeff Hornacek.

Hornacek is now the Phoenix Suns’ head coach, no longer a Jazz assistant, but his presence at EnergySolutions Arena on Wednesday coincided with one of Hayward’s best performances in a while.

Hayward flirted with his first triple-double, finishing with 17 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, and seven Jazz players scored in double figures during Utah’s 109-86 victory over the Suns.

Hayward showed signs of breaking out of his month-long shooting slump, hitting seven of 13 attempts from the field. He didn’t play the final six minutes, missing out on getting Utah’s first triple-double since 2008.

“It was close, but it just didn’t work out. I am just happy we got the win,” Hayward said. “All my teammates told me, ‘Get one more assist,’ so I knew. It was a blowout game. We had the lead and the win, so you don’t want to risk anything.”

The Jazz (21-36) cruised to their second straight win overall and against Phoenix.

The slumping Suns, trying to hold onto the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, had a couple of built-in excuses for a poor performance and their third straight loss.

The visitors were more undermanned than usual, as leading scorer and playmaker Goran Dragic (sprained ankle) didn’t suit up. Phoenix (33-24) also was without guard Eric Bledsoe (knee), guard Leandro Barbosa (toe) and center Viacheslav Kravtsov (ankle).

Phoenix also traveled to Utah late Tuesday night after losing to the Minnesota Timberwolves at home.

“We played last night,” Hornacek said, “and being short-handed, it looked like we just ran out of gas.”

Suns guard Gerald Green scored a team-high 17 points, including two highlight-reel dunks in the first half. Point guard Ish Smith, who started for Dragic, finished with 13 points, eight rebounds and five assists.

Small forward Richard Jefferson scored 17 points, and center Derrick Favors, guard Alec Burks and point guard Diante Garrett each contributed 15 points for Utah. Garrett hit six of nine field goals and three of four from 3-point range en route to his career high against the team he played 19 games with last season.

The Jazz improved to 2-2 against the Suns.

Hornacek, a former All-Star shooting guard, was on the Jazz’s NBA Finals clubs in 1997 and ’98, and he was a coach in various capacities for Hall of Famer Jerry Sloan and current coach Tyrone Corbin from 2007-13 before being hired by Phoenix last May.

The 23-point margin was Utah’s largest winning spread of the year. Utah’s previous largest margin of victory was 21 in road games at Sacramento and Detroit.

“We did a good job of stopping them in transition,” Jazz point guard Trey Burke said. “We moved the ball really well and got the shots that we wanted. … No one was selfish out there.”

Utah, which only averages 95 points a game, improved to 14-2 when it scores more than 103 points.

The Jazz, who shot 56.8 percent compared to Phoenix’s 38.8 percent clip, outscored the Suns 56-42 in the second half to turn the contest into a blowout.

Utah played its final home game until March 10, when former Jazz forward Paul Millsap makes his first return with the Atlanta Hawks. The Jazz kick off a six-game road trip Friday in Cleveland against the Cavaliers.

The Suns begin a four-game homestand Friday against the New Orleans Pelicans.

“We have to get a good win the next game,” Hornacek said. “We can tell them that. We can talk about it. We had a four-game losing streak earlier in the season, and then we bounced back and had a pretty good run. … You kind of just flush this one away.”

If Hayward had notched one more assist, he would have posted the Jazz’s first triple-double since Carlos Boozer tallied 22 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists at Seattle on Feb. 13, 2008. Hayward, who shot just 30 percent in his previous 13 games, isn’t satisfied that he is completely out of his funk.

“I am still not where I want to be,” he said. “I thought I was a little more active tonight, starting defensively and was able to get some rebounds and push it myself.”

NOTES: Suns PG Goran Dragic was sidelined after spraining his right ankle in Tuesday’s home loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. “You know Goran. He wants to try, but it makes sense to keep him out. It’s pretty sore and swollen,” Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek said. “Maybe we’ll get him back for Friday.” … Jazz teammates Gordon Hayward and John Lucas III participated in a tennis target-hitting competition Tuesday during a Champions Challenge event featuring retired greats John McEnroe, Pete Sampras, Jim Courier and James Blake. Both Hayward and Lucas were accomplished tennis players as teenagers, but they combined to hit one of six targets. “For the record, (Lucas) didn’t hit any of the targets,” Hayward said. “I’ve got one up on him right now.” Now the Jazz players want to take their rivalry to the tennis court. Lucas: “I have placement in where I put the ball. I would have Gordon on the run. He’d be out of shape.” Who would win? Rookie G Trey Burke: “I’ve never seen either one of them play. All I’ve heard was talk from both of them.”

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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