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Magic pull out last-second win over Thunder

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ORLANDO, Fla. — The Orlando Magic have been hard pressed to find highlights in the midst of a painful rebuilding process that has yielded very few big victories the past two seasons.

They hit the jackpot Friday night.

Magic forward Tobias Harris scored on a fast break dunk as time expired — capping a frantic final few seconds — to beat the mighty Oklahoma City Thunder 103-102 at the Amway Center.

NBA leading scorer Kevin Durant had 29 points, 12 assists and five rebounds, but he missed his final shot that led to a long rebound and the winning basket by Harris.

“This is one of the best,” Harris said. “Beating a great team in a close finish like that. This one goes to the top of our list.”

The Thunder (40-12) lost for just the second time in their last 14 games. They lead the NBA in victories this season. They also dominated most of the game until the Magic came alive in the final period.

The Magic limited the Thunder to just 14 points in the fourth period. Durant missed his final two shots, including the last one with :04.9 remaining — taking it only to beat the 24-second shot clock.

Magic guard Victor Oladipo grabbed a long rebound, passed across court to Maurice Harkless, who passed to Harris, who was racing through the lane. Harris caught and dunked as the buzzer sounded, needing a replay review to make it official. The Thunder failed to respond defensively.

“I didn’t think they had enough time (to score), to be honest,” Durant said. “They raced it up there. It was a good play. You have to tip your cap to them. It was one of those plays you start watching because you think the clock is going to run out. I should have gotten back.”

The Magic (15-37) won their fourth consecutive home game, but the first against a team with a winning record since mid-December. Harris led a balanced attack with 18 points. Guard Arron Afflalo had 16 points and forward Glen Davis had 14. Center Nikola Vucevic had 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Thunder forward Serge Ibaka had 26 points and five blocked shots. Guard Reggie Jackson had 12 points.

Guard Thabo Sefolosha hit a 3-pointer to give the Thunder a 102-99 lead with 1:56 remaining. The Magic pulled to within one when Afflalo hit two of three free throws after he was fouled shooting behind the 3-point line with :55 remaining.

Until the Harris dunk, the Magic had struggled down the stretch, missing their previous six field-goal attempts and committing a costly turnover when Harris failed to inbound the ball with 1:20.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a dunk game winner with no time on the clock. That’s hard to do, even if you tried to set it up,” Afflalo said. “Big rebound, big heads up play and big finish. Those are winning plays. I was happy for our guys tonight.”

It was the first time this season the Magic won against a team that shot at least 50 percent from the field. The Thunder hit 37 of 73 shots (50.7 percent).

“We just didn’t do a good job executing down the stretch at either end of the floor,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “We didn’t have enough guys getting back (at the end). We have to have a better mindset defensively. But give them (Magic) credit. They are a scrappy team.”

The Magic led 97-93 before Jackson hit back-to-back baskets to tie the game. The Magic, who trailed almost from the start, scored the first eight points of the fourth quarter to tie at 88. They took their first lead, 91-90, on a pair of free throws from Harris with 7:59 remaining.

The Magic cut a 14-point halftime deficit to six points in the third quarter when Davis scored 10 of his points, and point guard Jameer Nelson hit back-to-back 3-pointers.

Afflalo and point guard Derek Fisher received a double technical foul late in the third for exchanging shoves after a whistle had stopped play. Thunder center Kendrick Perkins received his sixth technical foul of the season earlier in the period after disputing an official’s call.

The Thunder led 65-51 at halftime. Durant had 17 points at intermission, including 15 in the first quarter. The Thunder were smoking early, hitting 14 of 20 shots in the first quarter.

The Thunder made eight of 12 shots from 3-point range in the first half and led by as many as 17 points early in the second quarter. They dominated the first half by shooting 59.5 percent from the field and outrebounding the Magic 18-12.

NOTES: Thunder coach Scott Brooks said there is nothing eminent about the return of All-Star G Russell Westbrook, even though he was moving well during a morning workout with his teammates. Westbrook (right knee surgery) has missed the past 24 games. “He won’t be on the court until he’s ready,” Brooks said before the game. In the earlier meeting against the Magic, Westbrook had 20 points, 12 rebounds and six assists. … Even without Westbrook, the Thunder came into Friday night on pace to win 64 games this season. If they do, it will mark the sixth consecutive season that Oklahoma City has finished with a better winning percentage than the season before. The Thunder were 39-14 at the All-Star break last season. … In the previous 10 games, Durant averaged 33 points and made 58.1 percent of his shots from the field. “He’s been on another planet of late,” Magic guard Victor Oladipo said before the game. … Magic G Arron Afflalo was disappointed about not being selected for the All-Star Game but happily accepted a spot in the 3-point shootout during All-Star Weekend. He was shooting 42.7 percent from behind the line. … Magic G Jameer Nelson is hearing rumors about a possible trade before the deadline later this month. “My job is to just play, whether it’s here or somewhere else,” he said. … Watching from courtside on Friday night were supermodel Kate Upton and former Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander of the Detroit Tigers.

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

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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 News Wire

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 News Wire

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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