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Heat edge Hornets to snap losing streak

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MIAMI — The Miami Heat snapped its three-game home losing streak — barely.

Miami survived a tip-in try by center Al Jefferson that went in and out just before the buzzer, beating the Charlotte Hornets 94-93 on Sunday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.

The win came just in time for the Heat (8-6) because the high-powered Golden State Warriors of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are coming to town on Tuesday night.

“Don’t ruin my night,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told the media after being asked about the Warriors. “They present incredible challenges. That offense is high-octane. Not a lot of teams have figured out how to stop that juggernaut.”

After losing LeBron James to free agency, the Heat is no longer a juggernaut. But forward Luol Deng, who had a game-high 26 points and added eight rebounds and one key block, said the Heat will take the win any way it comes.

“Even though Al (Jefferson) got that tip, and it looked like it was going in … I think this is part of growth,” Deng said. “We’ve been losing a lot of close games. You don’t want it to be this close, but it’s a good experience.”

Heat forward Chris Bosh, who had 20 points and 10 rebounds, made the game-winning basket when he hit a fade-away jumper from the right baseline with 31 seconds left to give Miami the lead, and the Hornets failed in several chances to win in the final 30 seconds.

Guard Kemba Walker missed a shot with 25 seconds, but a turnover by Heat guard Mario Chalmers gave Charlotte possession. Walker missed again, this time with 2.9 seconds, and Jefferson’s effort at the end was in vain.

“We missed two or three good shots at the end,” said Jefferson, who had 22 points and 12 rebounds for his sixth straight double-double in games against the Heat. “Of course (I felt contact for a possible foul call). But I wasn’t expecting them to make that call at the end of a game.”

Chalmers had 20 points and 10 assists. The assists were one short of his season high.

The Heat evened its home record to 4-4 and avoided what would have been their first four-game home losing streak since March of 2011.

But the Heat’s win was not without issues. Already without its starting backcourt due to injury, Miami lost reserve center Chris “Birdman” Anderson, who landed awkwardly and sprained his right ankle in the first quarter. He immediately left the game and did not return.

Charlotte (4-10) has lost five straight games overall and is now 1-7 on the road.

“This stretch of games has taken a toll on our confidence,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said of the losing streak. “Our guys are working hard and want to win very badly, but there’s some self doubt.”

The Heat led 53-44 lead at halftime, but Charlotte stormed back in the second half, winning the third quarter 28-14. Charlotte outshot Miami 58.8 percent to 35.3 percent in that quarter.

Charlotte led by as many as eight points, 85-77, with 6:42 left in the game.

But the Heat rallied, and their final 17 points were scored by a combination of Chalmers (seven points), Bosh (five points) and rookie point guard Shabazz Napier (five points).

Napier finished with 14 points, three assists and two steals in 34 minutes off the bench. He often battled another former Connecticut guard, Walker, who had 16 points, four assists and three steals in 36 minutes.

“Those two jitterbugs — they’re two spinning tops,” Spoelstra said of the two ex-U-Conn guards. “I’m sure you probably saw some of those competitive battles three years ago in practice. They have incredible quickness and shiftiness, and they know each other’s games well. It was a good battle.”

Now, after a night off, the Heat will have a very different challenge with the Warriors.

“When you have the three-point shooting ability of Curry and Thompson, up to 30 feet, sometimes that just comes down to make or miss,” Spoelstra said. “I’d rather not think about that until (Monday).”

NOTES: Charlotte coach Steve Clifford said SG P.J. Hairston (sprained ankle) will be out “a few more days.” … Clifford said SF Michael Kidd Gilchrist (stress reaction) “will be out a while. I’m not talking about six weeks, but he still can’t put pressure on his foot.” … Miami is still without its starting backcourt of SG Dwyane Wade (hamstring) and PG Norris Cole (dislocated finger). Cole had played in 160 consecutive games before missing Saturday at the Orlando Magic. His streak is the third longest in Heat history. … Despite the team’s slow start, Heat F Chris Bosh recently offered the following reason for optimism: “We’re not in the West.” … Bosh (32) and Heat PG Mario Chalmers (24) are coming off season highs in scoring on Saturday against the Magic. … ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy said Heat F Shawne Williams is one of this season’s “best free-agent signings.”

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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