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Suns shake of fatigue to burn Celtics

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PHOENIX — It took a half for the Phoenix Suns to shake off some fatigue and turnover problems Wednesday. Overcoming the pesky Boston Celtics took a lot longer.

Guards Goran Dragic and Gerald Green each scored 17 points, and forwards Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris combined for 29 points off the bench as the Suns gutted out a win for the second straight night, outlasting the Celtics 100-94.

Suns forward P.J. Tucker had 10 points and 11 rebounds, and he tied a career high with six assists, the last one setting up Markieff Morris for a dunk with 36.2 seconds left to give his team a 97-92 lead. It was one of only two field goals the Suns (32-21) had in the final 6:27 of the games, but it was enough to produce their eighth win in the last 11 games.

Markieff Morris scored a team-high 18 points Tucker added three steals before fouling out with 30.7 seconds left.

“Shhh … we don’t want anyone to go after him when he’s a free agent,” Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek said of Tucker, who will be unrestricted this summer. “P.J. is a workhorse. He plays hard and brings the intensity all the time. He’s got a knack for the ball and when he’s determined to get it he goes and gets it. He’s been invaluable.”

Phoenix needed overtime to pull out a win against the Nuggets in Denver on Tuesday. They came home to meet the well-rested Celtics (19-36), who were playing their first game after the All-Star break and had been in Arizona since Monday.

The Suns committed 18 turnovers, but only four after halftime and none in the fourth quarter.

Forward Channing Frye had 10 of his 15 points in the second half, including a big 3-pointer with 1:21 left that gave the Suns a 95-86 lead.

“We are figuring out different ways to win,” Frye said. “(Tuesday) we got a win off our defense and tonight was kind of the same thing. Every game is going to be tough. Guys are playing for their playoff lives, for their positions and just in general.”

Phoenix got 38 points from their bench, 17 more than Boston.

“I played (42) minutes last night and Gerald and Channing and the rest of the first unit played a lot,” Dragic said. “We needed everybody and the bench did an amazing job. I think because of the bench we won the game.”

Guard Rajon Rondo had 18 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds for Boston, who kept fighting back. The Celtics had the ball down 97-94 with 26 seconds left. Rondo lost the handle on a shot that missed the rim, and Boston center Jared Sullinger barely grazed the rim with a second effort before the Suns grabbed the rebound and closed out the game.

Forward Brandon Bass had 18 points and eight rebounds for the Celtics, who dropped to 4-19 against the Western Conference this season.

“We just lost momentum,” said Rondo, who has three double-doubles in his first 11 games this season. “They killed us in fastbreak points. They’re the top team in fastbreak points and they showed it tonight. Dragic gets the ball out quick, Green is playing unbelievable right now and Tucker is keeping balls alive.

The Celtics trailed 52-50 at the half but opened the third quarter with a 16-4 run to take their biggest lead of the game at 66-56. But over the next 8:30, the Suns outscored Boston 25-5 including eight straight points from Marcus Morris. He ended the third quarter with a 32-foot pull-up three pointer to beat the third quarter buzzer and scored five straight to give the Suns an 81-71 lead.

The Celtics cut the lead back to two at 88-86 on center/forward Kelly Olynyk’s 3-pointer with 3:59 left, but the Suns squeezed out just enough offense to win.

“The third quarter was our best start coming out,” Bass said. “At the end of the quarter, they made their run and kind of did what they do best.”

NOTES: Green, drafted 18th overall by the Celtics in 2005, came into the game averaging 29.0 points in his past three games. That included a career-high 36 in a 112-107 overtime win at Denver on Wednesday. It was the highest-scoring game by a Suns player since Jared Dudley had 36 against the Knicks on Dec. 26, 2012. … Green scored his 36 points Wednesday in 29:45 of playing time, the first Sun to score at least 36 points in 30 minutes or less since Tom Chambers had 36 against the Miami on March 16, 1990. … The Celtics swept the season series last year. … Dragic is averaging 5.4 fast-break points per game this season. Only G James Harden (6.3) of Houston, F LeBron James (6.2) of Miami, G Russell Westbrook (5.9) and F Kevin Durant (5.6) of Oklahoma City average more.

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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