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Knicks stretch win steak to six

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NEW YORK — Thanks to stellar shooting and aggressive rebounding, the New York Knicks jumped all over the Milwaukee Bucks, 115-94, on Saturday.

The Knicks (27-40), riding a season-high six-game winning streak and inching toward the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, received 28 of their 41 rebounds from their starters as they helped eliminate second-chance shots by the Bucks.

Small forward Carmelo Anthony had a game-high 23 points for the Knicks, who also received large contributions from shooting guard J.R. Smith, power forward Amar’e Stoudemire, shooting guard Iman Shumpert and rookie shooting guard Tim Hardaway Jr.

“This is Knicks basketball and what our fans have grown to love about us,” said Anthony, noting that the timing of this hot streak couldn’t have come at a better time. “We’re playing (well) and having fun and everybody is in synch. The most important thing is that we’re coming together at the right time.

“It’s sad and unfortunate that we had to wait until our backs were up against the wall and dug ourselves into this big hole, but we’ll take it right now (because) we’re playing our best basketball of the season right now. We just got to keep taking it one game at a time and make this run.”

The Knicks received 64 points from their starters, who shot a collective 55 percent from the field, as the new starting lineup did its part.

Smith and Stoudemire regularly come off the bench, but coach Mike Woodson shook up the lineup and started the veteran duo. They rewarded the switch by each contributing 15 points, while also showing off well-rounded games.

Smith added a game-high eight rebounds and a team-high four assists, while Stoudemire contributed six rebounds and a blocked shot.

“It’s great (to see his lineup change work),” Woodson said. “I kind of flipped it a little bit with J.R. in the starting lineup. “Our backs are against the wall and we’re trying to get into the playoffs.

“We’ve experienced playoff basketball the last two years … but this year it’s been a roller-coaster ride for our ball club. But we can still come out of this thing and get that eighth spot. The only way to do that is to continue to win. And guys have been playing well.”

Shumpert, who used to be a regular in the starting rotation, added 14 points, four rebounds and four assists off the bench, while Hardaway Jr. registered 20 points, including 11 in the first half.

Milwaukee’s young backcourt of point guard Brandon Knight and rookie shooting guard scored 14 and 15 points, respectively.

Woodson said he liked the way his own young players have taken a liking to their newfound reserve roles.

“Iman is back to playing how we expected him to play,” Woodson said. “He’s defending, making some shots here and there, and when he’s doing that it changes how we play the game because he normally energizes our players when he gets after the opponent.

“And it’s kind of nice to have him and Timmy come off the bench and scoring that way. As a group, we’re playing better and that’s a good sign.”

The most encouraging sign for the Knicks is the way their “Big 3” has jelled during this winning streak. Center Tyson Chandler missed a couple of games because of personal reasons, but said he’s happy to be back and glad to see everyone adjusting to their roles.

“It felt good to be back out there with my brothers,” Chandler said. “It felt great to win. Everyone got accustomed to that last year. We have to attempt to win every game and to do that we have to make sure we play with that right type of energy.

“Both lineups (starters and bench) are playing well and understanding what it takes to get back (to the playoffs).”

Woodson reasoned that as his veteran trio goes, so does the rest of the squad.

“They’re playing well,” the coach said. “We just haven’t had them on the floor over a long period of time to play minutes and develop some chemistry amongst each other. That’s been tough to have Amar’e on limited minutes and all the injuries that we had with Tyson missing time.

” … Carmelo has really been the only consistent one in the bunch. But it’s kind of nice to see them all playing well together and buying into what we want done. And also to have everyone who is surrounding them play well and at a high level. It makes things a lot easier.”

What made the Knicks’ win easier was the way the Bucks folded after the first quarter.

The first half was the turning point in the game, as the Knicks shot 56.4 percent from the field and led, 60-42, at the break, as the Bucks (13-53) never threatened again.

The 60-point mark by the half was the fifth time in six games that the Knicks reached that milestone.

Stoudemire said that once their pivot returned to the lineup, he, Anthony and Chandler decided to set the tone for the rest of the season and make that push for the playoffs.

“We’re all former All-Stars and have achieved all types of individual accolades in this league and have played with top teams and been successful, so when you put guys like that on the court together you’re going to figure it out,” Stoudemire said.

“Jelling late) is better late than never, so we have to accept that. But we know what it takes. We all have the same common denominator, and that’s we all want to win. And when you have that in common, it’s easier to figure it out.”

The Knicks will be off until Wednesday night’s game The Garden against the Indiana Pacers.

NOTES: The Knicks will hold a press conference on Tuesday to make a major announcement. The decree is likely the official hiring of legendary coach Phil Jackson to head the franchise’s basketball operations. … Both coach Mike Woodson and SF Carmelo Anthony spoke about Jackson’s pending arrival: “I can’t answer that question because it’s going to be new to Phil,” Woodson said when asked what he expects from Jackson. “He’s usually the one in the locker room coaching and teaching. But as a general manager you have to be able to teach, support and build a team (from afar). I don’t know what to expect.” … Anthony said he’s excited to have Jackson aboard. “For the most part, I think we’re just happy it’s just done and over with — all that speculation,” Anthony said. “I think that (uncertainty) can

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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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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Ginobili sprains ankle as Spurs rout Timberwolves

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SAN ANTONIO — The fourth and final meeting of the season between the San Antonio Spurs and the Minnesota Timberwolves looked a lot like the first three.

Forward Kawhi Leonard scored a team-high 15 points as San Antonio defeated Minnesota 123-97 Sunday night at the AT&T Center. The only downside for the Spurs was losing guard Manu Ginobili due to a sprained right ankle.

Leonard was one of seven San Antonio players to score in double figures as the Spurs (41-24) completed a season sweep of Minnesota (14-51). The average margin of victory in the games as 23.

The Spurs earned their seventh win in eight games.

Guard Kevin Martin scored 19 points and guard Zach LaVine added 18 for the Timberwolves, who were missing many players on the final game of a four-game road trip. Minnesota lost its fourth game in a row.

“We moved (the ball) well, but it wasn’t a fair fight,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “Their guys are devastated by their injuries, so I thought we had good focus under the circumstances. They still played the right way, so that was the best part of the game.”

The Spurs pulled away in the third quarter behind a 13-0 run. The Wolves only shot 27.3 percent in the third, and the Spurs made 63.6 of their field goals while outscoring Minnesota 33-13 in the period.

“That’s what great teams do,” Martin said. “We knew they were going to do that. Kawhi Leonard had a first half that he probably didn’t want to have, and I’m sure Pop let him know about it. He came out in the second half and changed the whole game.”

Ginobili had to be helped off the court late in the third quarter, and he did not return. He was hurt with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs up by 30 points.

Ginobili was taken immediately to the locker room and did not put any weight on his right leg, and he will be out for a to 10 days, Popovich said. Ginobili finished the game with 11 points in 19 minutes.

San Antonio forward Jeff Ayres sustained a rib contusion in the second half and also sat out the rest of the contest.

Sunday night marked the first time San Antonio stepped back on the court since a 128-125 overtime loss to the Cavaliers on Thursday that included a 57-point performance by Cleveland guard Kyrie Irving. The loss snapped the Spurs’ six game winning streak.

Minnesota dressed only eight players. Forward Kevin Garnett (knee), guard Ricky Rubio (ankle) and center Nikola Pekovic (ankle) were all ruled out by coach Flip Saunders before the game.

“It wasn’t a fair fight,” Saunders said. “We just weren’t alert mentally, as far as trying to play. They just mauled us basically.”

The Spurs took advantage of Minnesota’s depleted lineup and jumped out to a quick 8-2 lead behind guard Tony Parker, who made his first four shots of the game and finished the night with 11 points and eight assists. Minnesota trailed 60-50 at halftime.

The Spurs led by as many as 39 points in the fourth quarter.

Even though San Antonio was facing a team without a full complement of players, forward Tim Duncan said the final game of a 5-1 homestand was a sign of good things to come.

“We’re turning that corner,” said Duncan, who finished with 10 points, six rebounds and six assists. “I think we’re heading the right direction. The huge loss last game, I felt like we gave that one away. But other than that, we’re on the right track.”

San Antonio will hit the road for back-to-back games in New York on Tuesday and in Milwaukee on Wednesday. The Timberwolves head home to face the Brooklyn Nets on Monday night.

NOTES: San Antonio moved percentage points ahead of the Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Clippers for fifth place in the Western Conference standings. The Clippers lost Sunday, while the Mavericks were idle. … Minnesota F Kevin Garnett (knee) missed his fourth game in a row. … Spurs G Manu Ginobili was back in action against Minnesota after battling a stomach illness that caused him to miss the team’s game against Toronto on Tuesday and play less than 10 minutes against Cleveland on Thursday.

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