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James, Heat knock out Nets in Game 5

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MIAMI — LeBron James said the Brooklyn Nets’ Joe Johnson “torched” him for a game-high 34 points.

In the end, however, James and the Miami Heat extinguished the flickering flame that represented the Nets’ season.

Backed by a 12-0 run in the final minutes, the Heat advanced to the Eastern Conference finals with a 96-94 victory over the Nets on Wednesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.

The Heat, who beat the Nets in five games, now await the winner of the other Eastern Conference semifinal between the Indiana Pacers and the Washington Wizards. The Pacers lead the best-of-seven series 3-2.

As for Johnson, the Brooklyn shooting guard who made 15 of 23 shots, including three of six 3-pointers, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra tried to encourage James.

“Joe Johnson was a handful,” Spoelstra said. “We kept telling (James), ‘Stay with it.’

“(Johnson) was making tough shots over the top. We didn’t want to send another defender because of their 3-point shooting. (James) made a couple of big-time stops at the end by not panicking or overreacting.”

After a 20-foot jumper by Johnson, the Nets led 91-83 with 4:49 left in the game.

That is when the Heat made their charge. James, the superstar forward who led the Heat with 29 points, made a 3-pointer. Guard Dwyane Wade, who had 28 points, added a 10-foot jumper.

Johnson then finally missed. He was off target on two jumpers in a row, and James hit two free throws to bring the Heat within 91-90 with 1:12 left.

The Heat took the lead on a 3-pointer with 32 seconds left by guard Ray Allen, who took a feed from point guard Mario Chalmers.

“I was going up for the shot,” Chalmers said. “But when I caught it, I knew (the Nets) had to make a decision between me and (Allen). They closed out on me, and I was able to find Ray.

“That’s a great option when you know you have the all-time greatest 3-point shooter to your left.”

Nets guard Shaun Livingston then missed a shot in the lane, and Heat forward Chris Bosh grabbed the rebound with 22 seconds left.

“There were some fouls out there,” Livingston said of his bank shot that rimmed out, “but I’m not going to cry over spilled milk.”

After two free throws by Allen, Johnson cut Miami’s lead to 95-94 with a 3-pointer.

James followed by making one of two free throws to put Miami up 96-94 with 9.5 seconds left.

The Nets lost possession with five seconds left when James slapped the ball out of the hands of Brooklyn forward Paul Pierce. However, the call was overturned, giving the Nets a final chance.

Johnson took a pass and dribbled toward the foul line, but James and Allen stole the ball to preserve Miami’s win.

“I was in a crowd,” Johnson said of the defense, “but it shouldn’t have even come down to that. We didn’t execute down the stretch offensively or defensively.”

With the win, the Heat improved to 9-0 in the “Big Three” era of James, Wade and Bosh in home games in which they had the opportunity to close out a playoff series.

In addition to Johnson’s contributions, the Nets got 19 points from Pierce and 17 from point guard Deron Williams.

Johnson had 12 points in the third quarter as the Nets outscored Miami 26-24 and padded the seven-point lead they held at halftime. The Nets went into the fourth ahead 75-66.

There were 13 lead changes in the first half, but the Nets were up 49-42 at the break.

Cold-shooting Miami shot 34.1 percent from the field in the first half, including one of 16 on 3-point attempts.

After the game, Nets first-year coach Jason Kidd seemed encouraged by the big picture.

“It’s a process, and we just put this together,” Kidd said of how quickly the team was assembled during the last offseason. “To get to the second round gives us something to build on.”

Meanwhile, the Heat is headed to the Eastern Conference finals for the fourth consecutive year.

“It’s an incredible accomplishment,” Allen said. “It feels great, but the job is not done yet.”

NOTES: It is possible that Wednesday’s game marked the end of the 19-year NBA career of Nets C Kevin Garnett, who turns 38 on Monday. Garnett averaged a career-low 6.5 points in the regular season. In the opener of the Heat series, he was held scoreless in a playoff game for the first time in his career, and he scored just two points in Game 5. … The future of Nets F Paul Pierce, 36, also is uncertain. He will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. … In a statistical oddity, reserve G Ray Allen led Miami in rebounding twice in the first four games of this series. F LeBron James grabbed a game-high nine rebounds Wednesday. … Heat G Dwyane Wade, who was rested repeatedly in the regular season, is healthy now. He has yet to miss a postseason game and is averaging 34 minutes. … Miami made 29 of 31 foul shots Wednesday. Brooklyn had just 15 attempts, making 12.

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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