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Nene’s prayer answered as Wizards edge Pelicans

The Sports Xchange

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — The prayer was direct and sincere: Nene wanted the ball on the Washington Wizards’ final possession trailing the New Orleans Pelicans by one point. Thanks to guard John Wall’s divine dish, the power forward got what he wanted and so did the playoff-pushing Wizards.

Nene matched his career-high with 30 points, including the game-winning dunk with 0.3 seconds remaining as the Washington Wizards made guard Andre Miller’s debut a winning one with a 94-93 victory over the Pelicans on Saturday night.

Wall had 10 points and 12 assists with the final one setting up Nene’s score after New Orleans forward Anthony Davis made two free throws to give the Pelicans a 93-92 lead with seven seconds left.

“I just prayed. I wanted to finish with the ball in my hands,” Nene said after the Wizards improved to 27-28 with their second straight victory. “They put the ball into my hands. John, he did amazing, penetration right there, he found me right there. It was an amazing victory.”

Davis finished with 26 points and 11 rebounds for the Pelicans (23-32). Guard Anthony Morrow made 7 of 8 field goal attempts and scored 18 points, but New Orleans lost its third straight and fifth in six games.

The back-and-forth battle included 22 lead changes, six in the fourth quarter, and seven times tied.

“We were down, we were up, we were down, we up,” said Davis, who battled with Nene throughout. “To come in close and lose especially on a play like that is tough.”

The tight matchup featured tied scores at the end of the second and third quarters, and neither side led by more than five points in the fourth. Washington trailed 89-85 when consecutive layups by guard Wall and center Gortat tied the game with 2:08 remaining.

Guard Eric Gordon’s free throws with 1:08 left put the Pelicans up 91-89. Nene could only split a pair of free throws for Washington with 55 seconds remaining. Following a missed jumper by Pelicans guard Brian Roberts, Wall darted down the lane for a layup while falling down for a 92-91 lead with 26 seconds remaining.

On its next possession, New Orleans worked the ball to Davis, who was fouled by Nene while shooting a jumper.

Wall set up Washington’s final play from the top of the key. He penetrated with a hesitation dribble past Roberts, drawing several defenders toward the basket. That included center Jeff Withey, who left Nene and then could not recover after Wall fed the Brazilian big man on the left block.

“(Wall) broke us down and your natural reaction is to go help,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. “We could make up all kinds of reasons why that happened. If anyone (is to blame), it was on me not our guys.”

Washington started the day fifth in the Eastern Conference. The Wizards have won five straight in the series, including 102-96 at New Orleans on Jan. 8.

Nene made his first five field-goal attempts and finished 13 of 19. Center Marcin Gortat added 16 points and 10 rebounds before the crowd of 18,385.

The backcourt of Roberts and Gordon finished 5 of 23 from the field for New Orleans. Neither team kept momentum for long as one scoring streak would be offset by the other side’s rally.

Tied at 43 at halftime, New Orleans jumped out to a seven-point lead early in the third quarter. Washington countered as Nene scored 13 during a 21-6 run for a 66-58 lead. The momentum immediately shifted back as the Pelicans scored the next 11 points including five from Morrow.

Miller, acquired from the Denver Nuggets in a three-team trade Thursday, had five points and three assists in 16 minutes off the bench in his first game since Dec. 30.

“I played, probably too much minutes,” said Miller, who stayed away from the Nuggets following a public spat with Denver coach Brian Shaw over playing time. “I’m just happy the team got a win. It was fun to be back out there.”

Nene, who previously set his career-high Nov. 26 against the Los Angeles Lakers, couldn’t hold back his excitement when asked about being reunited with Miller.

“Definitely yeah, you know how amazing he is,” Nene said of his former teammate at Denver. “He’s going to be a great mentor to John. That’s making me more excited.”

That and his prayer being answered.

NOTES: F Martell Webster had three 3-pointers and scored 12 points for the Wizards. Washington finished 3 of 14 from beyond the arc. …New Orleans C Greg Stiemsma replaced Alexis Ajinca for his fifth start of the season. He played a scoreless 15 minutes. … Armed with an extra roster spot after the trade for G Andre Miller, the Wizards activated F Al Harrington. The veteran, who underwent a right knee procedure on Dec. 19, played the final 33 seconds of the first half. … The Wizards play in Cleveland against the Cavaliers on Sunday and the Pelicans return home to host the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday.

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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