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Thunder tops Wolves, hits 40 wins

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OKLAHOMA CITY — Being a starting point guard in the NBA has been a learning process for Reggie Jackson. With guard Russell Westbrook still out of service, Jackson is still learning to be the consistent director the Oklahoma City Thunder need.

Facing the shorthanded Minnesota Timberwolves, Jackson played like a veteran as he helped spur the Thunder to a 106-97 victory Wednesday at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Oklahoma City became the first team in the league to hit the 40-win mark this season.

“I think Reggie did a great job of finding guys and making the right plays,” forward Kevin Durant said of Jackson, who finished with 20 points on 9-for-14 shooting and added nine assists while turning it over only once.

“He was definitely aggressive trying to get to the rim. And shooting the thing as well. He played well tonight. We kind of fed off him.”

Durant finished with 26 points, nine rebounds and seven assists to lead the Thunder (40-11). Center Kendrick Perkins grabbed 12 boards, and forward Serge Ibaka scored 14.

Late in the fourth quarter, Durant was called for a technical foul with the Thunder leading 93-86. After Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio missed the technical free throw, Durant knocked down a jumper to put Oklahoma City ahead by nine.

Jackson came up with a steal with 2:04 left. Durant was calling for the ball at the top of the key, looking to put the game away. However, Jackson waved him off, then drove into the lane before passing the ball to guard Thabo Sefolosha for a 3-pointer to put the Thunder up 100-90.

Timberwolves forward Chase Budinger missed a 3-pointer, and Ibaka tipped in a missed layup by Durant to give the Thunder a 12-point advantage. Jackson added a 3-pointer to close out the night.

Rubio led the Timberwolves (24-25) with 19 points and five assists. Forward Dante Cunningham scored 18 points, and he and Rubio each grabbed eight rebounds.

Minnesota coach Rick Adelman said he was proud of his team, which was playing without three starters.

“It was a tough game,” Adelman said. “They busted their tails the whole game. I think it shows that these guys compete. They weren’t afraid to go play them with three starters out.”

Minnesota (24-25) played without forward Kevin Love, who landed painfully on his back Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Lakers. That left the Timberwolves trying to run their offense through Rubio and forward Ronny Turiaf.

Rubio responded with nine first-quarter points, and Minnesota trailed 26-25 heading into the second quarter.

“Without (Love), there’s more shots,” Rubio said. “And we have to take more responsibility and just have to attack.”

The Timberwolves pulled ahead in the second period by getting balanced scoring.

Oklahoma City couldn’t take care of the ball, as it committed 11 of its 16 turnovers in the first half. However, the Thunder still led 56-54 at halftime thanks to Durant’s 3-pointer at the buzzer.

The Thunder came up with another buzzer beater to close out the third quarter when the Minnesota forward Gorgui Dieng mistakenly tapped in a 3-pointer from Thunder guard Derek Fisher. Dieng was called for goaltending, and Oklahoma City led 80-77.

“I thought that was a big momentum (boost) going into that fourth quarter,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “I think we went on a 7-0 run at the end of the third and start of the fourth.”

NOTES: Minnesota F Kevin Love (back) was a last-minute scratch, but coach Rick Adelman said there were no worries about a concussion. “He is pretty stiff,” Adelman said. “He took a hard fall. He didn’t hit his head or anything. More his neck. Kind of whiplash.” … Minnesota C Nikola Pekovic missed his fifth consecutive game due to bursitis in his right ankle. … Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks likes the two-man game Fs Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka have built this season. “Ibaka is starting to have a feel for the game,” Brooks said. “Especially the two-man game between him and KD. KD is going to demand a lot of attention. Most teams will put an extra body on KD and Serge is one of the best midrange shooters in the game.” … Durant captured his third consecutive NBA Western Conference Player of the Month award as he helped the Thunder to a 13-4 record in January. He averaged 35.9 points during the month.

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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