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Trail Blazers coast to victory over Knicks

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PORTLAND, Ore. — It was another day at the office for the Portland Trail Blazers.

“We took care of business,” guard Damian Lillard said after Portland methodically beat the depleted New York Knicks 101-79 Sunday at Moda Center.

Wesley Matthews, Lillard’s backcourt mate, led all scorers with 28 points. He made 6 of 15 3-point attempts as Portland sank 44.4 percent (16 of 36) from beyond the arc.

The Blazers never trailed, led by as many as 27 points and coasted in the fourth quarter, emptying their bench.

New York was down to eight players after halftime, when forward Carmelo Anthony went to the sideline for good with a sore knee. He scored 13 points in 19 minutes.

“Not much to say,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said with a shrug after the victory. “Obviously, they were undermanned, but it was a game we needed to win.”

The Knicks shot 33.3 percent from the field in falling to 5-28.

“Guys are fighting and showing some grit and some toughness. We have to combine that with high performance,” New York coach Derek Fisher said. “We can’t have one or the other.”

Matthews matched his season high for points. He made five 3s in the first half, but said the key to Portland’s 25-7 season — it’s the most wins of any team in the NBA — has been at the other end of the court.

“We’re defending,” Matthews said. “That’s our calling card. We’re playing with an edge and a hunger.”

Portland has won six in a row in its series with New York, all under Stotts. He hasn’t lost to the Knicks since taking over as Blazers coach.

“We played with focus at both ends,” Stotts said of Sunday’s effort. “Defensively, we were really locked in on what we needed to do.”

It was Portland’s second game in a row with 16 or more baskets from behind the 3-point line; the Blazers hit 18 of 43 Friday night in a homecourt win against Philadelphia.

Portland was 11 of 21 from long distance in the first half against a New York team that ranked last in the NBA in 3-point defense (allowing 39.3 percent) coming into the game. The first-half spree helped give the Blazers a 55-41 halftime edge.

“It was nice to see the 3s go in,” Stotts said. “We shared the ball really well on offense. That got us into a rhythm on our shots.”

The Blazers, who have won three games in a row, improved to 14-2 at home, where they are 8-0 against Eastern Conference teams. Portland is 14-1 overall against the East.

The Blazers also are 12-3 in December going into a Tuesday home game against East-leading Toronto, after posting a 12-3 record in November.

“The ball is moving, flying around, and we’re getting rhythm shots,” Matthews said.

Against New York, the Blazers were without forward LaMarcus Aldridge (upper respiratory illness). Forward Nicolas Batum and centers Joel Freeland and Chris Kaman helped pick up the slack.

Batum scored a season-high 17 points, making 5 of 7 shots from 3-point range.

“I think that bodes well for us,” Stotts said.

Batum hadn’t done a lot on offense lately, and his previous season best of 16 points came Oct. 29 against Oklahoma City.

“I got in a rhythm tonight. Why? I don’t know,” Batum said.

Freeland, who started, had 10 points and 10 rebounds in 25 minutes.

“Joel has been solid,” Stotts said. “He does what he does well. He plays very hard. He goes after balls. He gives a great effort defensively.”

Kaman, returning after a one-game absence for the birth of a child, had 13 points and nine rebounds in 20 minutes.

With all 13 Blazers seeing action, it was the proverbial team effort. And none of those who played Sunday for Portland was three-time NBA All-Star Aldridge.

“I just want to get L.A. healthy,” Stotts said. “I’m glad we’re getting wins and people are getting a chance to contribute, but we need him. We’ve got some tough games coming up. Getting him healthy is paramount.”

The Knicks also need to get healthy. Center Cole Aldrich had 12 points and 19 rebounds, and guard Tim Hardaway Jr., finished with 17 points, but when Anthony went to the bench for good, New York’s firepower took another huge hit. Anthony was 5 of 14 from the field before the Knicks made a precautionary move with him.

Anthony was “just a little bit sore,” Fisher said. “Not necessarily more than last night (at Sacramento), but considering where we were at the half, and that he was experiencing some soreness and some fatigue, we just decided to have him sit out the second half.”

Anthony said his knee began to hurt more in the second quarter, “the more I was running and jumping. I was trying to get offensive rebounds and trying to run back, and I looked at coach and told him, ‘Come get me, some get me,’ but then there weren’t any timeouts, no fouls, no ball stops, so I just played the rest of the quarter, I came in (the locker room), and the coaches and staff told me to sit out the second half.”

New York’s next game is Wednesday at the Los Angeles Clippers. “That’s enough time to get the proper rest and rehab that I need,” Anthony said. “Any other time I’ve had three days to rest, I’ve come back and felt great.”

NOTES: New father and Blazers C Chris Kaman returned after missing Thursday night’s win over Philadelphia. His wife, Emilie, gave birth a few hours after that game to a boy, Barrett Christopher Kaman, 22 inches, 8 pounds, 2 ounces. … Portland F LaMarcus Aldridge (upper respiratory illness) was out for the third time in the last four games. … New York coach Derek Fisher was down to nine healthy bodies, as C Samuel Dalembert (ankle), F Amar’e Stoudemire (knee) and G J.R. Smith (plantar fasciitis) were ruled out. The Knicks’ starters were the same as in Saturday night’s 135-129 OT loss at Sacramento: F Carmelo Anthony, F Cole Aldrich, C Jason Smith, G Jose Calderon and G Tim Hardaway Jr. … Portland entered the game sixth in the NBA scoring (104.1 points per game). “A great offensive team,” Fisher said. But Stotts said the Blazers offense “frankly hasn’t been as good as it can be … we haven’t broken out like we did at the beginning of last season.”

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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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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Ginobili sprains ankle as Spurs rout Timberwolves

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SAN ANTONIO — The fourth and final meeting of the season between the San Antonio Spurs and the Minnesota Timberwolves looked a lot like the first three.

Forward Kawhi Leonard scored a team-high 15 points as San Antonio defeated Minnesota 123-97 Sunday night at the AT&T Center. The only downside for the Spurs was losing guard Manu Ginobili due to a sprained right ankle.

Leonard was one of seven San Antonio players to score in double figures as the Spurs (41-24) completed a season sweep of Minnesota (14-51). The average margin of victory in the games as 23.

The Spurs earned their seventh win in eight games.

Guard Kevin Martin scored 19 points and guard Zach LaVine added 18 for the Timberwolves, who were missing many players on the final game of a four-game road trip. Minnesota lost its fourth game in a row.

“We moved (the ball) well, but it wasn’t a fair fight,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “Their guys are devastated by their injuries, so I thought we had good focus under the circumstances. They still played the right way, so that was the best part of the game.”

The Spurs pulled away in the third quarter behind a 13-0 run. The Wolves only shot 27.3 percent in the third, and the Spurs made 63.6 of their field goals while outscoring Minnesota 33-13 in the period.

“That’s what great teams do,” Martin said. “We knew they were going to do that. Kawhi Leonard had a first half that he probably didn’t want to have, and I’m sure Pop let him know about it. He came out in the second half and changed the whole game.”

Ginobili had to be helped off the court late in the third quarter, and he did not return. He was hurt with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs up by 30 points.

Ginobili was taken immediately to the locker room and did not put any weight on his right leg, and he will be out for a to 10 days, Popovich said. Ginobili finished the game with 11 points in 19 minutes.

San Antonio forward Jeff Ayres sustained a rib contusion in the second half and also sat out the rest of the contest.

Sunday night marked the first time San Antonio stepped back on the court since a 128-125 overtime loss to the Cavaliers on Thursday that included a 57-point performance by Cleveland guard Kyrie Irving. The loss snapped the Spurs’ six game winning streak.

Minnesota dressed only eight players. Forward Kevin Garnett (knee), guard Ricky Rubio (ankle) and center Nikola Pekovic (ankle) were all ruled out by coach Flip Saunders before the game.

“It wasn’t a fair fight,” Saunders said. “We just weren’t alert mentally, as far as trying to play. They just mauled us basically.”

The Spurs took advantage of Minnesota’s depleted lineup and jumped out to a quick 8-2 lead behind guard Tony Parker, who made his first four shots of the game and finished the night with 11 points and eight assists. Minnesota trailed 60-50 at halftime.

The Spurs led by as many as 39 points in the fourth quarter.

Even though San Antonio was facing a team without a full complement of players, forward Tim Duncan said the final game of a 5-1 homestand was a sign of good things to come.

“We’re turning that corner,” said Duncan, who finished with 10 points, six rebounds and six assists. “I think we’re heading the right direction. The huge loss last game, I felt like we gave that one away. But other than that, we’re on the right track.”

San Antonio will hit the road for back-to-back games in New York on Tuesday and in Milwaukee on Wednesday. The Timberwolves head home to face the Brooklyn Nets on Monday night.

NOTES: San Antonio moved percentage points ahead of the Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Clippers for fifth place in the Western Conference standings. The Clippers lost Sunday, while the Mavericks were idle. … Minnesota F Kevin Garnett (knee) missed his fourth game in a row. … Spurs G Manu Ginobili was back in action against Minnesota after battling a stomach illness that caused him to miss the team’s game against Toronto on Tuesday and play less than 10 minutes against Cleveland on Thursday.

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