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Vasquez’s late run lifts Raptors past Pelicans

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NEW ORLEANS — From the moment the Toronto Raptors’ charter touched down at Louis Armstrong International Airport, former New Orleans point guard Greivis Vasquez had his radar locked and loaded.

“We call him ‘Spicy,'” guard DeMar DeRozan said about Vasquez. “We knew he was hot about something. It’s cool to have a teammate like that to see how much he wants it.”

After a slow start Wednesday night at the Smoothie King Center, Vasquez caught fire in the final 90 seconds, scoring five consecutive points to break open a tie game and lead the Raptors to a 107-100 comeback victory over the New Orleans Pelicans.

DeRozan scored a game-high 31 points to help Toronto (38-29) snap a two-game losing streak, but it was Vasquez, traded away in the offseason by the Pelicans, who made the key offensive plays down the stretch.

Vasquez broke a 94-94 tie with a floater on the right side of the lane with 1:58 left.

Then, after Pelicans guard Brian Roberts missed a 15-footer on the other end, Vasquez’s 3-pointer from the right baseline hit iron, but he hustled in to get his own rebound and sank a reverse layup while being fouled. When Vasquez made the free throw, Toronto led 99-94 with 1:21 left, and New Orleans never got closer than four points the rest of the way.

“I really struggled in the first half, but in the second half I was on a mission,” said Vasquez, who scored 12 of his 14 points after halftime. “I will never be afraid to shoot. I’m the type of player who is willing to risk anything. I thought (the 3-pointer) was going in, but I got a little too excited. But I went back up and got the follow, and everything worked out.”

Earlier in the fourth quarter, Toronto trailed 87-83, and the Raptors missed three consecutive shots on the same possession, but they kept the ball alive on the offensive glass. Vasquez wound up free in the right corner for a critical 3-pointer.

“That was a big sequence, especially in the fourth quarter,” said Toronto center Tyler Hansbrough, who had 13 rebounds, including seven on the offensive glass, while subbing for injured starter Jonas Valanciunas. “We kept getting rebounds and kicked the ball to Greivis. He’ll take any shot at the beginning of the game or the end.”

The Pelicans, playing without All-Star forward Anthony Davis, out due to an upper-respiratory infection, led 94-90 with 4:26 left after center Jeff Withey’s free throw. Toronto ran off 15 of the next 21 points, with Vasquez and forward Amir Johnson scoring six points apiece during the run.

Toronto coach Dwane Casey said he especially liked the way his team, playing on the second night of a back-to-back, locked in after allowing New Orleans 32 first-quarter points on 81 percent shooting (13-for-16 from the floor).

“I didn’t recognize the team in the first half that gave up 80 percent from the field,” Casey said. “I told them they looked like they were playing in a rec league game in the summertime. This game was about mental and physical toughness, more so than skill. No matter who you are playing, you have to bring that each and every night, and I thought our guys did.”

New Orleans made up Davis’ absence by placing six players in double figures — led by forward Al-Farouq Aminu with 19, guard Tyreke Evans with 18 and guard Eric Gordon with 15. However, Gordon failed to score in the second half.

“It hurt once he got into foul trouble,” New Orleans coach Monty Williams said of Gordon. “Once he got his fourth (with 4:11 left in the third quarter), I think that probably broke his rhythm.”

The Raptors outrebounded the Pelicans 48-34, including a whopping 22-5 edge on the offensive boards.

“They had a lot of offensive rebounds,” New Orleans reserve guard Anthony Morrow said. “They were throwing it up on the glass, but they were getting on that glass pretty tough. It’s a team thing. We have to gang rebound.”

NOTES: Pelicans F Anthony Davis posted career highs (36 and then 40 points) each of the previous two games before missing Wednesday’s game. … New Orleans coach Monty Williams said he was happy his team, despite season-ending injuries to PG Jrue Holiday, F Ryan Anderson and C Jason Smith, matched last year’s win total (27) with 16 games to go. “I still feel like we left a few games on the floor,” he said. … Williams said rookie C Jeff Withey, who is playing better in the second half of the season, may see more action. … Toronto played without C Jonas Valanciunas, who has a sprained lower back. Coach Dwane Casey said C Tyler Hansbrough and F Chuck Hayes would have to pick up the slack. “We’ve been very fortunate not to have that many injuries up to this part of the season,” Casey 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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Irving leads Cavaliers to rout of Magic

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ORLANDO — Cleveland guard Kyrie Irving is in the midst of an incredible shooting zone. And he’s loving every minute of it. Irving followed his NBA-best, 57-point scoring burst on Thursday with a more-efficient, 33-point effort Sunday, leading the Cavaliers to a 123-108 victory over the outmatched Orlando Magic.

Irving was sensational again.

In the last two games, Irving has made 12 of 13 shots from 3-point range. He has made 32 of 47 shots overall. He made the Cavs look unstoppable.

“It’s just a feel, an overall body feel right now,” Irving said. “The basketball feels a little bit better. It’s a fun game right now, and it’s fun to be part of something like this.”

Irving made 12 of his 15 shots Sunday and hit five of six from 3-point range, finding time to add four rebounds and four assists in leading the Cavs (43-25) to their fourth consecutive victory.

“Someone did ask me (before the game), what does he do for an encore (after his 57 point effort),” said Cavs coach David Blatt. “I didn’t have a good answer, But 12 of 15 from the field, in 34 minutes. That’s a pretty good encore. And he played right, which is the most important thing. It’s not the scoring as much as it is him just being engaged, locked in.”

LeBron James happily provided the perfect complement and setup man. He had 21 points, 13 assists, eight rebounds, and three steals, creating opportunities for everyone else. The Cavs buried the Magic by making 18 of 35 3-point shots, most of which were wide open.

Guard J.R. Smith scored 25 points, leading the 3-point onslaught by making six of his 10 from long range.

“I thought LeBron seemed to be seeing everyone in the gym tonight,” Blatt said. “And he threw it to them in the shooting pocket, and it seemed like that made every one. It seemed like he found guys in the eighth row that could make an open shot tonight.”

The Cavs received a brief scare midway in the third period when James went up to contest a shot and landed awkwardly, twisting his right knee. He continued to play and looked fine, but he raised the issue about his availability for Monday’s game in Miami.

“A scary moment for myself obviously,” he said. “I’ll see how I feel tomorrow and go from there. I haven’t had one of those falls in a pretty long time. I was happy to stay in the game.”

The Cavs made 45 of 76 shots (59.2 percent). The Magic (21-47) made 42 of 88 (47.7 percent, but they never seriously challenged in the second half, even though they closed to nine points twice in the fourth quarter.

Magic guard Victor Olidipo had 25 points and seven assists. Center Nikola Vucevic had 22 points and 15 rebounds. Rookie point guard Elfrid Payton had 13 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists. Forward Tobias Harris had 24 points and eight rebounds. Reserve guard Luke Ridnour had a season-high 15 points.

Irving made his first four 3-point attempts, giving him 11 consecutive 3-pointers without a miss, dating back to his 7-for-7 effort Thursday against San Antonio. He finally missed from 3-point range midway in the third period.

The Magic twice fouled Smith while he was shooting beyond the 3-point line, accounting for all five of his free throws.

“That’s a tough team. You have to give them credit,” Harris said. “They have a lot of options out there, and guys who can make tough shots. It’s just overall tough for us against a team like that.”

The Cavaliers led 100-86 going into the fourth quarter. Smith made a trio of 3-pointers in the third period, helping hold off every Magic charge in the period.

Smith hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Cavaliers a 84-68 lead. Irving hit a pair of 3-pointers earlier in the period.

The Cavaliers led 66-55 at intermission, riding a red-hot shooting start and a 40-point second quarter. They made 26 of 42 shots (61.9 percent) and eight of their 16 3-point attempts in the first half.

Irving hit both of his 3-pointers in the first half. The Magic held a 28-16 rebound edge in the first half, but they couldn’t keep pace with the Cavaliers, who exploded in the second period when they made 16 of their 20 shots.

The Magic led the entire first quarter. Forward James Jones gave the Cavaliers their first lead when he opened the second with a 3-pointer.

Vucevic and Harris each had 14 points by halftime. James had 15 points and six assists before intermission. Irving made six of his first seven shots for 14 points.

NOTES: The Cavaliers were without PF Kevin Love (sore back), but they were helped by the return of veteran Shawn Marion, who missed the past three weeks with a strained hip muscle. F Tristan Thompson started in Love’s place. … The Magic were without reserve G Willie Green, who missed his third consecutive game with lower back spasms and F Evan Fournier, who missed his eighth consecutive game with a sore right hip. … A quirk in the schedule gave the Cavs two-plus days in balmy Orlando before the game Sunday. The extra time gave one fan of James the opportunity to invite him Friday to his wedding reception Saturday night at the posh hotel where the Cavs were staying. James politely declined.

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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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