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Thunder hang on to defeat Grizzlies

The Sports Xchange

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OKLAHOMA CITY — When the Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies face off, the games are never pretty. The winner is usually the team that finds a way to play through the pushing, shoving and hard fouls.

It was the Thunder who turned out to be that team Monday with an 86-77 victory over the Grizzlies at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

“Experience,” Oklahoma City guard Thabo Sefolosha said. “We know that team extremely well now from the number of times we’ve played against them. And just relying on one another, knowing what we’re supposed (to do), rebounding the ball as a team. That’s what we did tonight.”

Oklahoma City (39-11) led by double digits much of the second half. But Memphis guard Courtney Lee cut the lead down to 78-75 with 4:53 left. Thunder forward Kevin Durant hit a jumper to push it back to five. After consecutive misses by Memphis guard Mike Miller, Sefolosha drained a 3-pointer.

The Grizzlies (26-11) went to forward Zach Randolph in the paint, but Oklahoma City center Kendrick Perkins forced him to pass instead. Durant intercepted it and drove the court for a layup to put Oklahoma City ahead 85-75 with 2:52 remaining.

After three consecutive Memphis turnovers, Randolph came up with an offensive putback. An ill-advised 3-point attempt by Thunder guard Reggie Jackson gave the Grizzlies the ball with 46 seconds left. Lee was unable to connect on a long 3-pointer and Oklahoma City closed out the game at the free-throw line.

“That first half, we put ourselves in a hole,” Lee said. “Starting off a little slow and getting down 15. I felt in the second half we came out and competed more.”

Durant scored 31 points and racked up eight rebounds, eight assists and five turnovers in the win. It was his first 30-plus point game since his 13-game streak ended Friday in Brooklyn.

Thunder forward Serge Ibaka collected 21 points and 12 rebounds. Jackson added 12 points on 6-for-15 shooting.

Randolph paced Memphis with 13 points and 13 rebounds. Gasol also scored 13 points on 5-for-11 shooting. Lee scored 11 and Miller came off the bench to post 11 points.

“It’s definitely going to be tough to let this loss go,” Randolph said. “We didn’t play the basketball we normally play. We made bad decisions at points in the game. A lot of turnovers. We just have to be smart and hit shots.”

After the way Lee lit the Thunder up for 16 first-quarter points in the team’s first encounter this season, Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks made sure to make a concerted effort to not let Lee have the same type of impact. That meant putting Sefolosha on him from the opening tap.

“He’s seems like a guy that’s taking advantage of his opportunity,” Brooks said of Lee. “When he got traded, he’s playing good basketball for them. He gives them another threat. They don’t take a lot of 3s, but he’s the guy that can make 3s. And make multiple 3s and in back-to-back possessions.”

Lee was held to six points in the first period and the Thunder held a 20-18 advantage.

Ibaka pummeled on the Grizzlies on the backboard in the first half. He had a double-double before halftime. His offensive rebounds allowed Oklahoma City to rack up 13 second-chance points.

The Thunder ended the first half on a 20-4 run to take a 51-36 halftime advantage.

“We started the game great defensively and we built off of that,” Durant said. “Offensively I think we played a little slow, but we picked it up in that second quarter.”

NOTES: With Memphis G Mike Conley out with a sprained ankle for at least a week the Grizzlies signed G Darius Morris to a 10-day contract. But it was G Nick Calathes who got the start in Conley’s place. After leading his team to a 12-3 record in the month of January, Memphis coach David Joerger was named the Western Conference Coach of the Month. “Certainly getting Marc (Gasol) back has been important,” Joerger said. “But we started playing well.” … Oklahoma City F Kevin Durant has been paying attention to the debate on what his nickname should be. While he hasn’t offered any options, he does know the Slim Reaper is not his favorite. “I’m here to shine a bright light, not here to be a guy of death,” Durant said.

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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