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Westbrook’s triple-double powers Thunder

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OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma City Thunder have plenty of practice playing without forward Kevin Durant. The NBA’s reigning MVP has missed more games than he has played this season.

However, with the Thunder losing four of their past five games, Monday was not a good time for Durant to be sidelined due to a strained left big toe.

Despite the star’s absence, Oklahoma City hung on for a 104-97 victory over the Orlando Magic at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Guard Russell Westbrook posted his second triple double of the season with 25 points, 11 rebounds and 14 assists to lead the Thunder.

Oklahoma City (24-24) ended a two-game losing streak and remained within striking distance of the Phoenix Suns in the race for the Western Conference’s final playoff spot.

“We haven’t backed down from the challenge,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “We haven’t played well all the time. The reality of it is we’re fighting through a lot of different things this season we haven’t had to fight through before. These are all great opportunities for all of us to improve and get better and figure out ways to stay competitive and stay afloat.”

Orlando (15-36) lost its ninth consecutive game, but the team showed more fight down the stretch then it had in weeks.

“Every day we take steps forward,” Magic forward Kyle O’Quinn said. “We’re taking the smallest steps possible. We need to take a giant step at some point and get over the hump.”

With 3:06 left in the game, Orlando forward Channing Frye drained a 3-pointer to cut the Thunder’s lead to 100-86. After an Oklahoma City turnover, Magic guard Victor Oladipo hit two free throws, and the advantage was down to 12.

Westbrook responded with a midrange jumper before Orlando guard Willie Green drained back-to-back 3-pointers, and the Magic trailed 102-94 with 1:10 left.

Once again, Westbrook had the answer. With Green guarding him at the top of the key, he dribbled a few times before pulling up and hitting a 15-foot jump shot with 54 seconds to go.

That was all the Thunder needed to close out the Magic.

Oladipo led Orlando with 22 points on 7-for-14 shooting. Magic center Nikola Vucevic scored 20 points, and forward Tobias Harris added 18.

Guard Dion Waiters scored 24 in his first start for the Thunder. Forward Serge Ibaka added 16 points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots.

“A lot of good performances,” Brooks said. “Russell, obviously, with his triple-double, it was a special game for him. He was attacking, he was making plays. The guys were making shots for him, and he was rebounding the ball.”

Westbrook was on the attack from the start. Along with his 16 first-half points, he had 10 assists, four rebounds and three steals at the break.

The Magic relied on Harris and Vucevic to stay in the contest. The two combined to score 24 first-half points, but the Thunder still led 61-50 at intermission.

“I thought overall, we played with a sense of urgency,” Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. “We played with some pride. That was the challenge to our group.”

Waiters started in place of Durant and took advantage of the opportunity. He scored nine points in the third quarter to help Oklahoma City open up a 22-point lead.

Orlando was able to cut the deficit down to 13 midway through the fourth, and the Thunder bench looked ready to fall apart. However, back-to-back baskets by Oklahoma City center Kendrick Perkins and guard Anthony Morrow (15 points) stretched the margin to 91-73.

“I thought we did a lot of good things tonight,” Brooks said. “We did a great job of moving the basketball and taking care of the ball.”

NOTES: Oklahoma City F Kevin Durant (toe) sat out for the third time in the past two weeks. Durant has missed 26 games this season with a variety of injuries. “He had treatment yesterday and today. Still not responding the way we would like,” coach Scott Brooks said. … Entering Monday, Orlando allowed at least 100 points in 12 consecutive games. “Our biggest culprit defensively has been keeping the basketball in front of us,” Magic coach Jacque Vaughn said. “The ability to guard guys is one of the toughest things to do in this league.” … After being on the road for 10 games in January, Oklahoma City will be at home for seven games in February. … Magic F Victor Oladipo was back in the lineup after sitting out one game because of a sore right Achilles.

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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