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Rubio’s return can’t save Wolves in loss to Mavs

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DALLAS — On a night when the Minnesota Timberwolves were excited to get point guard Ricky Rubio back, and the Dallas Mavericks readied for life without point guard Rajon Rondo, both teams found things to like even if only one could win the game.

The Mavericks never trailed in the 100-94 victory over the Wolves on Monday night at American Airlines Center.

Dallas led by as many as 21 points in the game, but Minnesota climbed within two points with 90 seconds to play.

Mavs guard Monta Ellis led all scorers with 23 points, forward Chandler Parsons had 18, and forward Dirk Nowitzki eased into an efficient 16 points.

“It’s just different,” Chandler said of playing without Rondo. “He’s a floor general, and he gets us in our offense so well. He’s an unbelievable passer, and we’re going to miss him. The good news is we do have three veteran point guards.”

The majority of the game appropriately felt like “Groundhog Day.” Dallas jumped out to a 10-0 advantage and later led 45-24 in the second quarter. Minnesota did a nice job getting back in the game before halftime, trailing by just seven, and then the remainder of the game was a rerun of Dallas rebuffing multiple Wolves runs to rebuild the lead back to 10.

The positive for Minnesota, which will take any good news after dropping to 8-40, is that Rubio is back after missing 42 games. He severely sprained his left ankle Nov. 7.

“It feels good, finally,” Rubio said. “I went through a long recovery. I feel good, and I’m happy to be back. I’ve been doing a good job keeping in shape. Of course, it’s not the same game shape … but it felt pretty good and I feel great.”

He showed some awesome flashes, doling out a beautiful no-look pass at one point, firing a wicked off-the-dribble bounce pass through a path of defenders and lofting an alley-oop to forward Andrew Wiggins. Also encouraging was Rubio draining four of nine shots for 10 points, one of five Wolves players to score in double figures.

“They were letting me shoot, and I have been working on my shot and I’m going to keep shooting,” said Rubio, who played 21 minutes. “I was only going to play like 15 or 20 minutes, and I had to get out there and try to do my thing.”

Rubio really started to get things going in the fourth quarter as the Wolves again took swipes at Dallas’ 11-point lead.

Minnesota pulled with 92-89 on two Wiggins free throws, but with the stoppage, Wolves coach Flip Saunders then removed Rubio from the game after the guard exceeded his expected playing-time limit.

Rubio slowly walked to the bench, looking not thrilled with the decision.

However, at this point of the season, Saunders placed more value on protecting the newly crowned face of the franchise (with forward Kevin Love now in Cleveland) over potentially losing momentum without him.

Even then, Dallas could not put Minnesota away. Wolves guard Mo Williams’ two free throws made it 96-94, and Minnesota had a chance to tie or go ahead with 90 seconds left. Center Nikola Pekovic worked inside against Mavs center Tyson Chandler but missed a tough underhand scoop shot. At the other end, former Wolves guard J.J. Barea, who started in place of Rondo, stung his old team with a difficult baseline drive that put Dallas up 98-94.

“It was great. I have some good friends on that team,” Barea said. “I spent three years over there with some good people. It’s always good to help my team win, and we did our job tonight.”

After a couple Minnesota misses on a frenzied possession as the clock ticked down, Barea was fouled and sealed the game with a pair of free throws with 17.1 seconds left.

The victory was Dallas’ third in a row and improved the Mavs’ record to 33-17 with a trip to Golden State coming up on Wednesday. The Mavs know they will be without Rondo, who sustained a broken orbital bone and broken nose on Saturday. There is no timetable yet for his return.

Potentially compounding Dallas’ point-guard issue was a late-game injury to Devin Harris, who hurt his left leg after Pekovic fell on him, pinning Harris’ leg.

“I don’t know anything yet other than what I saw, which is a guy fell on his leg and it looked like he got twisted around,” Mavs coach Carlisle said. “We will get it checked out and we will see. Hopefully it isn’t bad.”

X-rays came back negative, and Harris said afterward that he felt better than when he limped off the floor.

The Wolves need a bit more from rookie sensation Wiggins, who fought off a sluggish start to finish with 14 points, but on 4-of-14 shooting. He was coming off his ballyhooed, 33-point effort Saturday against LeBron James and Cleveland, the team that originally drafted him No. 1.

Minnesota guard Kevin Martin finished with 19 points but was just 1-for-3 from beyond the arc, where the Wolves were 3-for-13. Wolves forward Thaddeus Young and Williams each had 15 points.

NOTES: G Raymond Felton, little-used since joining Dallas in a trade during the offseason and dogged by a sprained ankle sustained during the preseason, will become part of coach Rick Carlisle’s rotation with PG Rajon Rondo sidelined. Felton scored three points Monday. … Mavs F Chandler Parsons returned to the starting lineup Monday after missing the previous two games with a stomach bug. … Minnesota G Mo Williams also returned to the lineup after a three-game absence due to a hip injury. … Wolves rookie G Zach LaVine missed his second consecutive game since spraining his ankle Friday. … The Timberwolves return home Wednesday to play the Miami Heat.

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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