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Hornets stay hot, beat Wizards

The Sports Xchange



WASHINGTON — The Washington Wizards are in the midst of their roughest stretch of the season. The surging, but shorthanded Charlotte Hornets took advantage.

Center Al Jefferson scored 18 points and 12 rebounds, and guard Brian Roberts added 18 points as the Charlotte Hornets defeated the Washington Wizards 92-88 Monday night.

Forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist finished with 13 points and 13 rebounds for the Hornets (21-27). Charlotte led throughout and pushed back any rally attempts by holding their Southeast Division rival to 37 points in the second half.

Guard Bradley Beal had 18 points and 11 rebounds, and guard John Wall had 16 points and 10 assists for the Wizards (31-18). Washington matched its season-worst, three-game losing streak, and it has dropped three in a row at home for the first time this season.

The Wizards are 9-10 over their past 19 games after starting 22-8.

“We haven’t been the same team that got up on other teams, that was physical and just made it tough on them,” Beal said in Washington’s disheartened locker room. “We’re pretty soft right now.”

Charlotte is rather hot right now and surprisingly so. The Hornets are 11-3 since Jan. 3 and 3-1 since learning starting guard Kemba Walker required surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee.

Even the head coach admitted surprise with the recent performances.

“Yeah. What I like is you see an intensity and togetherness about the group that has allowed us to play well,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “I think everybody understands how much (Kemba) means to our team and I think everybody is taking it upon themselves to play well.”

Guard Gerald Henderson finished with 17 points for the Hornets.

Even recent wins for the Wizards involved notable struggles. Washington trailed by 12 points in the second half Monday, marking the fourth straight game it was down by at least a dozen points. The Wizards went without a field goal for over five minutes in the fourth quarter.

“The key tonight was that we don’t play hard anymore,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman stated.

Wittman took the blame for the recent dip, but doled out some harsh truths as well.

“Being a good team is hard,” said the coach of the third-place team in the Eastern Conference. “It’s a grind. February 2nd, nobody feels good and we are feeling sorry for ourselves.”

Leading 53-51 at halftime, the Hornets opened the third quarter with a 10-0 run, holding the Wizards without a point for nearly six minutes.

Washington closed the quarter with eight straight points. Beal’s dunk pulled the Wizards within 76-74 with 6:37 left, but then Washington went cold.

Kidd-Gilchrist’s jumper capped a 10-4 spurt to put the Hornets up 86-78 with 1:44 remaining.

After going without a field goal for five minutes and one second, Washington surged back. Forward Paul Pierce’s 3-pointer reduced the deficit to 90-88 with 11.9 seconds remaining. But Roberts made two free throws with 10.4 seconds left.

Charlotte held Washington to 40.7 percent shooting from the field.

“That is going to be our identity,” Henderson said of Charlotte’s defense.

Same for Washington most of this season. Yet over the last five games, opponents are averaging 58 points in the first half. The Wizards fell to 25-2 when holding opponents under 100 points.

Forward Kris Humphries scored 13 points and Pierce 11 for Washington. The frontcourt of Pierce, center Marcin Gortat and forward Nene did not attempt a single free throw.

“Biggest thing I think is we’re not focused enough,” Beal said. “We’re not hungry. We’re not the same team we were in training camp and to start the year off. I don’t think we have the same heart and desire to prove ourselves and put teams away and show we’re about business. I think we’ve definitely taken several steps back these last five games, especially defensively.”

NOTES: G Gary Neal scored 12 points for the Hornets. C Bismack Biyombo missed his third consecutive game with a right knee bone bruise. … Wizards F Kris Humphries averaged 12.5 points and 13.3 rebounds off the bench over the previous four games. The reserve big man turned into a fourth-quarter stalwart in that stretch, often playing over starter Marcin Gortat. … By sinking a 3-pointer on his first shot attempt, Wizards F Paul Pierce passed Alex English for 15th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. … Wizards guard Andre Miller, the oldest NBA player in uniform this season, did not play for the first time this season. … Charlotte is off until Thursday, when Washington visits. … The Wizards play at the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday.

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

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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NBA News Wire

NBA notebook: Clippers’ Griffin cleared to return

The Sports Xchange



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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