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Pacers overcome deficit for fifth straight win

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INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Pacers realize how the remainder of the NBA season will play out for them.

They are the target on every other team’s schedule. At 46-13, they have the best record in the league. And to keep it that way, they will have more than a handful of battles on their hands.

Forward David West helped the Pacers survive another near upset Sunday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, scoring a game-high 25 points in a 94-91 victory over the Utah Jazz. The Pacers rallied from a 12-point deficit to win their fifth straight game, all over teams in the bottom half of the NBA.

“We’re getting everybody’s best game from now on,” said West, who crashed hard to the floor during a scoring attempt in the second half but remained in the game. “We accept that.”

Forward Paul George added 22 points for Indiana. West and George combined for 21 points in the third quarter, when a 13-3 run helped the Pacers take the lead for good.

Utah (21-38), the last-place team in the Northwest Division, almost forced the Pacers into overtime. Indianapolis native Gordon Hayward, who was a star at Butler University when Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens was the coach at Butler, missed a 3-point shot as the buzzer sounded. The ball rattled off the rim and bounced away.

“I wanted that one. It was close. It looked good from my angle. I just back-rimmed it,” Hayward said.

Hayward, who played in front of a large group of friends and family, led the Jazz with 21 points on 8-of-15 shooting. He scored 16 of those points in the second half when the Pacers pulled ahead by eight but the Jazz fought back to make it a one-possession game in the final minute.

“I’m proud of the way we fought,” Hayward said. “We could have given up. We gave ourselves a shot, gave ourselves a look.”

“I thought the focus, especially on the defensive end tonight, was really, really good,” Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said. “It gave us a chance to win the ballgame.”

Utah center Derrick Favors added 17 points and had a game-high 10 rebounds. He scored 11 points in the first half, when the Jazz took a 12-point lead, stunning the home crowd. Guard Trey Burke added 16 points.

Favors’ job on the boards led to a 44-42 rebounding advantage for Utah.

Pacers guard C.J. Watson, starting in place of George Hill (bruised shoulder), added 13 points and guard Lance Stephenson had 11.

The Pacers were facing a team in the NBA’s bottom half for the fifth consecutive game, and, as in the previous four games, the Pacers struggled. Frustration surfaced in the third quarter when George was whistled for a technical foul. George slammed the ball to the court and complained when a foul was called on a play when George thought the Pacers had stolen the ball.

The Pacers won all five of those games, but the last three have come by an average winning margin of less than five points.

“Sometimes guys get hot, teams play well. Teams are circling our name on their schedule,” West said. “All these games are going to be this way. We know we’re going to get everybody’s best shot.”

On Saturday, the Pacers held on to defeat the Celtics by five points in Boston, then arrived in Indianapolis at 4 a.m.

“I’m really, really proud of our guys for pulling out a game under difficult circumstances, getting in at 4 a.m., overcoming in-game adversity with our starting point guard out and foul trouble (Roy Hibbert had two early fouls) and having to use two timeouts for injured players,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “This was a mental toughness win.”

NOTES: Pacers G George Hill sat out for the second game in a row due to a bruised shoulder. He injured the shoulder in Thursday’s 101-96 win over Milwaukee. … Pacers G Evan Turner, who joined the club on Feb. 20 in a trade with the Philadelphia 76ers, averaged 12.6 ppg in his first three games with the Pacers. While Hill is out, Turner is a back-up point guard to C.J. Watson. “I like what he’s doing. He’s giving us a big lift, a spark, so to speak,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. … Jazz G/F Gordon Hayward, an Indianapolis native and former star at Butler University, made his only Indy appearance of the season in Sunday’s game. He received loud cheers when introduced as a starter. … An eight-inch snowstorm and temperatures in the 20s greeted the Jazz for the second contest of a season-long, six-game road trip covering more than 4,000 miles.

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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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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