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Wizards win in Miami as Heat run into Wall

The Sports Xchange

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MIAMI — Every day, it seems, John Wall silences more doubters.

On Friday night, Wall continued to build his case as perhaps the best point guard in the Eastern Conference, producing 20 points and 10 assists for his 16th double-double of the season.

His contribution helped the Washington Wizards win their sixth straight game, defeating the Miami Heat 105-103 at AmericanAirlines Arena.

“I think his maturity has taken a huge leap this year in terms of leadership,” Wizards Coach Randy Wittman said of the 24-year-old Wall. “It’s not just what he’s doing on the floor but the locker room and being one of the best practice players.”

He’s a pretty good game-day player, too.

Wall, who leads all Eastern Conference point guards with 10.6 assists per game, was involved in the game’s defining moments.

With less than two minutes left and the score tied 95-95, Wall drove to the basket, drawing the attention of three Heat defenders.

When his layup barely spun off the rim, Wizards forward Paul Pierce — left alone by Heat defenders intent on stopping Wall — raced to the rim for an easy tip-in with 1:31 left.

After Heat point guard Mario Chalmers was called for an offensive foul, Wall’s mid-range jumper with 61 seconds left put Washington up 99-95, and the Wizards coasted from there.

The Wizards (19-6) now lead the idle Atlanta Hawks by one game in the Southeast Division. Miami (12-15), which has lost five straight home games for the first time since March 2008, is in third place, eight games back.

Washington is 10-1 in its past 11 games.

Wall, who tied forward Nene for the team high in points, made 6 of 10 shots from the field and 8 of 10 from the foul line in an efficient 38 minutes.

Not that Wall was satisfied.

“They (the Heat) did a good job of not letting me get into the open court,” Wall said. “I only made six shots all game. … When you are taking the ball out (after Miami field goals), it’s hard to get into a flow.”

If Wall wasn’t completely happy, things were far worse in the Heat locker room. Miami has lost eight of its past nine home games.

Heat guard Dwyane Wade, who scored 70 points combined in his past two games, had 28 on Friday to lead Miami. Heat forward Luol Deng added 19 points.

“I have been playing better of late and the guys have been playing better,” Wade said of his teammates. “But when it doesn’t (result) in a win, it’s tough.”

The Heat lost despite outshooting the Wizards from the floor (53.3 percent to 49.4 percent). Miami was also better on 3-pointers — 9 of 19 for 47.4 percent to Washington’s 3 of 14 (21.4 percent).

But Washington was plus-six on turnovers, plus-two on rebounds and plus-10 on free throws made.

“Until (injured forward Chris Bosh) gets back, we just have to hold the fort,” Heat Coach Erik Spoelstra said.

Early on, the game swung back and forth. There were 12 lead changes in the first quarter and Washington emerged with a 29-25 lead.

Miami roared back in the second quarter, shooting 80 percent from the field (12 of 15. That was the Heat’s best shooting performance in any quarter this season, and it gave them a 55-54 halftime lead.

Despite cooling off in the third quarter — the Heat shot 36.4 percent to Washington’s 50 percent — Miami led 79-76.

That set the stage for Wall, who scored 10 points in the fourth quarter.

Wall, the NBA’s No. 1 overall pick in 2010, was a first-time All-Star last season. And after the Boston Celtics on Friday officially traded Rajon Rondo to the Dallas Mavericks of the Western Conference, Wall’s status as the East’s leader in assists can no longer be denied.

Sure, Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls is still in the East. But his numbers don’t stack up with those of Wall, who is averaging 17.8 points with an assists-to-turnover ratio of 2.71.

Wall, though, is focused on team goals — not individual ones.

“We want to be a good team,” Wall said. “We know it’s early in the season, but nobody thought we’d be here (first place). We have the ultimate goal of trying to get to the NBA Finals.”

NOTES: Washington, the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, is off to its best start in 36 years. … Washington SF Paul Pierce started after missing one game with a toe injury. … Because of injuries, Miami used its 12th different starting lineup. … The Heat’s projected starting lineup has been together for just 34 minutes all season — PG Norris Cole, SG Dwyane Wade, SF Luol Deng, PF Chris Bosh and PF Josh McRoberts. Bosh (calf) is likely out for two more weeks. McRoberts (knee) is likely out for the season. … Heat C Chris “Birdman” Andersen started his second straight game and his second of the season. Heat SF Shawne Williams returned to the starting lineup for the first time since Dec. 1. He came off the bench in the past nine games. … Up next, Washington returns home to play Phoenix on Sunday. Miami remains home to play Boston on Sunday.

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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