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Kings end Spurs’ dominant run in Sacramento

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins wore a 4-inch gash just underneath his left eye, courtesy an elbow from San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili

Such is life under the basket for one of the NBA’s best centers, but on nights like Saturday, the pain is worth it.

“Hurt like crazy when it happened,” Cousins said. “But it’s fine now. Winning helps.”

Winning against the Spurs probably helps more. Cousins finished with a game-high 25 points, and his two key free throws with 21.4 seconds left helped the Kings end years of home futility against the defending NBA champs with a 94-91 victory at Sleep Train Arena.

“We got back to playing the game the right way,” Cousins said. “That’s the big part.”

It wasn’t the only big part. Sacramento posted a home win against the Spurs for the first time since Nov. 26, 2007. San Antonio had won each in each of its previous nine trips to Sacramento.

The Kings were able to hold on after blowing leads in excess of 20 points in each of their previous two games — losses at Dallas and Memphis.

“It feels great any time you can beat the defending champions and protect your home court,” Sacramento coach Michael Malone said. “More important for me tonight was the defense. … We held that team to 91 points and 42 percent (shooting) from the field.

“We dominated the paint and had only nine turnovers. If we defend like that, I really feel like we can beat anyone in the NBA.”

With a 6-4 record, Sacramento is off to its best start since the 2004-05 season. The Kings also ended a three-game losing streak.

Cousins scored 21 of the 25 in the second half and proved to be unstoppable down low.

Guard Darren Collison added 19 points and knocked down one of two free throws with 6.6 seconds left to provide the final margin.

The Kings won despite missing all 12 of their shots from 3-point territory.

“This team is maturing,” Collison said. “Nobody was happy the way we lost the last two games, but there’s nothing you can do about that. All you can do is concentrate on the present and the future. You can’t worry about the past, and guys in here really are taking that to heart.”

Ginobili finished with 21 points to lead the Spurs, who failed in their attempt to finish a four-game road trip with a perfect mark. San Antonio, which had won 21 of its previous 22 against the Kings, had won its last four in Sacramento by an average of 15.5 points per contest.

“Couple of guys were probably a little bit tired at the end of the road trip, but everybody goes through that,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “We had a good chance to win the thing. We just didn’t.”

Sacramento led 78-68 with 8:30 to go after Gay hit a 7-foot jumper, but the Spurs gradually reduced the lead, using a handful of defensive stops and a steady procession to the foul line.

Duncan made six free throws and Ginobili stripped Collison on consecutive possessions, leading to guard Tony Parker’s 3-pointer and layup and an 88-87 San Antonio lead with 2:01 left.

But Gay knocked down two free throws on Sacramento’s next possession and Collision increased Sacramento’s lead to three with a driving layup with 28 seconds. The Kings never trailed again. Ginobili air-balled a 3-pointer from the left arc at the final buzzer for San Antonio.

“We had some defensive stops, but they got a defensive rebound, made a couple of shots,” Ginobili said. “It was little things, but little things can make the difference between winning and losing.”

Forward Kawhi Leonard and guard Danny Green each had 16 points for San Antonio, and forward Tim Duncan added 15 points and eight rebounds. Guard Tony Parker added 11 points.

Gay added 18 points, and forward Omri Casspi had nine points and played harassing defense on Parker during his 22 minutes of action.

NOTES: No opponent in Sacramento’s first 10 games has scored 25 points, tying the Kings’ record in the shot-clock era, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Among the players Sacramento held below 25: Warriors guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, Clippers F Blake Griffin and Mavericks F Dirk Nowitzki. … Spurs F Tim Duncan played his first game since tying Hall of Fame C Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only other player with 25,000 points, 14,000 rebounds and 2,500 blocks in a career. He and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich entered the night with 903 wins in their careers together, 138 more than Utah Jazz F Karl Malone and coach Jerry Sloan for the most by a player-coach combination in NBA history. … Kings C DeMarcus Cousins received a technical foul for the second straight game, but it might go down as only his first of the season. Team officials indicated the league rescinded the technical that Cousins received at Memphis on Thursday. … Duncan needed 11 double-doubles to tie Malone for fifth on the career list but 165 behind leader Wilt Chamberlain.

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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