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Spurs hold off Mavs in series opener

The Sports Xchange

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SAN ANTONIO — The San Antonio Spurs already were struggling with the Dallas Mavericks when Hall of Fame-bound forward Tim Duncan limped off the court in the third quarter with a bad knee.

But Duncan, after resting for several minutes, returned to the game, scoring nine points in the fourth quarter as the Spurs defeated the Mavericks 90-85 Sunday afternoon in the opening game of their Western Conference playoffs series.

San Antonio used a 15-0 push to erase a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit and gained its 10th straight win against Dallas.

The Mavs missed 12 straight shots down the stretch, scoring just four points — two on free throws — during the final 7:45.

“They missed some easy shots; we played some good defense,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.

Duncan finished with 27 points. He left the game with 3:24 remaining in the third quarter after a knee-to-knee collision with Dallas guard Monta Ellis. The Spurs trailed by two at the time.

For Duncan, it was the left knee, the one that was surgically repaired in 2000.

Even so, Duncan said he knew the issue with his knee was not serious.

“My leg just kind of went numb,” Duncan said. “I knew I needed a couple of minutes for the feeling to come back.”

He returned with 9:26 left in the game. The 6-foot-11 Duncan found room to maneuver around the basket because Dallas was concerned with guarding the 3-point line. The Spurs had made 42 3-point baskets while sweeping four games from the Mavs during the regular season. On Sunday the Spurs hit just three of 17 3-pointers.

“We got killed on threes the first four outings this year,” Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki said. “There was no secret that we stayed a little more home on the 3-point shooters (Sunday). You have to give them something.”

Guard Tony Parker contributed 21 points and six assists for San Antonio. Guard Manu Ginobili scored 17. Forward Kawhi Leonard produced 11 points and 10 rebounds. Center Tiago Splitter grabbed 11 rebounds.

Reserve guard Devin Harris led Dallas with 19 points. Nowitzki scored only 11, missing 10 of 14 shots, largely while guarded by Splitter or Boris Diaw. He went two for six in the fourth quarter. Nowitzki and his teammates missed several makeable shots.

“We had some uncharacteristic misses right at the rim,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said.

Nowitzki acknowledged that some of the shots he missed were not difficult. But he also said the Spurs are smart defensively.

“What they want to do is take you out of your comfort zone,” Nowitzki said. “If you like one move, they won’t let you get that one move.”

Dallas led 44-43 at halftime after falling behind by 12 points in the first quarter.

The Mavericks missed seven of their first eight shots. They were down 21-9 late in the quarter, but then Harris responded with a 3-pointer, the last basket of the period for either team. That started a 15-0 Mavericks push, the final 12 of which came in the second quarter.

Harris started a spurt in which 24 straight Dallas points were scored by a reserve. He finished the half with 13 points.

Parker led San Antonio with 17 points in the half. All seven of his baskets were driving shots inside.

Dallas limited Parker to six shots and two baskets in the second half.

“They played great defense,” Parker said.

In the end, it was not enough.

“We gave ourselves a good chance to win this game,” Dallas forward Shawn Marion said. “When you hold a team under 90 points, you’re supposed to win.”

NOTES: The San Antonio Spurs began the season as the NBA’s sixth oldest team, with an average age of 28.3 years. The Spurs’ so-called Big Three — Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker — average nearly 35 years. But coach Gregg Popovich was so careful about managing playing time that nobody averaged 30 minutes a game, a first for any team since the NBA and ABA merged in 1976. … Dallas finished the regular season with a huge disparity in offensive and defensive efficiency. The Mavericks rank second on offense and 22nd on defense, according to ESPN. The Spurs had better balance, rating sixth in offense and fourth on defense. … Craig Sager Jr. filled in for his father, Craig, interviewing Popovich after the third quarter. The elder Sager is receiving treatment for leukemia. … San Antonio F/C Aron Baynes, who played in 53 games, starting four, this season, was inactive Sunday. The Spurs have 14 players for 13 spots. … Dallas guards Ricky Ledo and Gal Mekel were inactive.

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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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