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Heat on target in win over Magic

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MIAMI — LeBron James is the top shooting forward in the NBA at 57.9 percent.

Dwyane Wade is the top shooting guard in the league at 55.1 percent from the field.

And Chris Bosh is a center with 3-point range who is among the top 15 overall in field-goal percentage at 53.0, regardless of position.

The efficiency of the Miami Heat’s “Big Three” is part of what makes them so special, and that ability was on display Saturday night in a 112-98 win over the Orlando Magic at AmericanAirlines Arena.

“They are the most efficient team in the NBA,” Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. “That’s done with LeBron setting up people.”

With James at the controls, Miami shot 58.1 percent from the floor, never dropping below 52 percent in any quarter.

Not even a change to a clear mask that James wore to protect his broken nose had any effect on the play of the Heat, who extended their win streak to seven games.

James, who complied with the NBA’s wishes and discarded the black mask that he debuted Thursday night against the New York Knicks, scored seven points less than his average against the Magic but nearly had a triple-double. He finished with 20 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.

“Both masks protected my nose,” James said. “I’m happy to have had a successful game. We’re playing at a high level.”

With the win, the Heat (42-14) kept pace with the Indiana Pacers, who lead by two games in the battle for the best record in the Eastern Conference.

The Heat have won nine straight in their series against the Magic and are a season-high 28 games above .500.

Bosh (17 points in 18 minutes) and Wade (game-high 24 points on 10-of-14 shooting from the field) also starred for the Heat, who never trailed after the first quarter in a relatively easy victory.

“Wade has reinvented himself,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He couldn’t be the same player he was before the way this team has been put together (with James at the forefront). It’s been a steady process of (Wade) developing his post-up and his mid-range games.”

The Magic (18-43), who lost for the sixth time in the past eight games, were led by forward Tobias Harris (20 points) and center Nikola Vucevic (18 points, 10 rebounds).

“Tobias can guard multiple guys, post up guys and shoot from the perimeter,” Vaughn said. “The versatility he provides (helps).”

Orlando also got 14 points and a career-high 15 rebounds from second-year forward Kyle O’Quinn, who provided a lift in 22 minutes off the bench.

Magic point guard Jameer Nelson was held to three points on 1-of-8 shooting from the field but had a game-high 11 assists and just two turnovers.

Meanwhile, among other highlights for the Heat was the play of reserve center Greg Oden, who had a season-high eight points, all of them in the second quarter.

“That was the first time I’ve ever played Oden,” Vucevic said. “When he’s in there, it’s a little different.”

Another positive for Miami was the defense played by reserve forward Michael Beasley, known more for his offense. On Thursday, he had eight points, four rebounds and a game-high three blocks in 22 minutes.

“He is schooling himself in order to be reliable in our system,” Spoelstra said. “He’s come a long way.”

The Heat struggled defensively in the first quarter, when there were eight lead changes and Orlando shot 54.2 percent from the floor.

But the Heat managed a 32-30 lead after the first quarter, thanks to 11 points by Bosh and overall team shooting of 64.7 percent.

The Heat extended their lead in the second quarter and took at 61-53 advantage into halftime. The Heat shot 58.8 percent from the field and got 10 points from Wade in the second quarter.

Orlando was held to 35 percent shooting from the floor in the second quarter.

Miami put the game away in the third quarter, posting an 89-73 lead. James had 10 points in the quarter and the Heat outshot the Magic 57.1 percent to 31.3 percent from the field.

NOTES: Magic G Arron Afflalo is out with an ankle injury. … Heat F Shane Battier on F LeBron James wearing a black mask on Thursday, a look that quickly became a fan favorite: “Only LeBron can make breaking your nose look cool.” … The Heat lost out on free-agent Fs Caron Butler and Danny Granger, who chose the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers, respectively, after they had their contracts bought out by their previous teams. The Heat reportedly were especially interested in Butler, a former Miami player. … For Magic fans looking ahead to next season, Orlando is currently projected to get the third pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, which could be converted into a player such as Kansas SF Andrew Wiggins, Kentucky PF Julius Randle or Oklahoma State PG Marcus Smart. … The Heat concludes its three-game homestand on Monday against Charlotte. After that, Miami has a challenging three-game road trip: Houston, San Antonio and Chicago. … Orlando starts a two-game homestand on Sunday against Philadelphia.

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

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NBA News Wire

Rockets spoil Griffin’s return in testy affair

The Sports Xchange

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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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