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Nuggets dent Pelicans’ playoff hopes with double-ot win

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NEW ORLEANS – The shorthanded Denver Nuggets already had done the improbable, forcing one overtime and then a second overtime against the New Orleans Pelicans, a team focused on a bitter playoff race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

And then in the second extra period, Nuggets finished the comeback, outscoring the Pelicans 9-2 behind forward Danilo Gallinari’s five points to defeat the Pelicans 118-111 Sunday night at the Smoothie King Center.

“Grit,” said Nuggets interim coach Melvin Hunt, reflecting on his team’s fourth consecutive victory and his sixth win in eight games since taking over for the fired Brian Shaw. “I’ m not talking about the grits you get down South, down here. I’m talking about inner grit. The last overtime, we gave up two points. That’s digging in.”

The game was tied 109-109 at the end of the first overtime, but the Nuggets forced the Pelicans into five straight scoreless possessions at the start of the second overtime. Center Kenneth Faried, who scored 20 points, gave the Nuggets the lead for good on a rebound follow, and Gallinari, who finished with 17 points, nailed a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 1:29 left to put Denver safely ahead, 114-109.

“Coach called a play for me to do the pick and roll with the point guard to make them switch,” Gallinari said. “They didn’t switch high, so I was able to have the space to shoot from the 3.”

The Nuggets (26-41) placed five players in double figures, led by guard Will Barton, who scored a career-high 25 points off the bench.

The loss for the Pelicans (36-30) placed them a game behind Oklahoma City for the final playoff spot in the West and wasted a monster game by forward Anthony Davis, who had a game-high 36 points, 14 rebounds, nine blocks and a career-high seven assists. It was the first time in the last 30 seasons that any NBA player had that stat line.

Davis had six of the Pelicans’ eight points in the first overtime period, all on mid-range jumpers.

But Davis’ last basket came with 2:18 left in the first overtime, and he failed to score in the final 7:18 of overtime. Despite coming off four days of rest, the Pelicans looked leg-weary in the final overtime period. Four of their five shots were long jumpers, which came up short. They missed 7 of 8 shots.

“We won’t go 6 for 22 from 3,” said New Orleans coach Monty Williams. “A lot of shots were front rim. As the game wore on, we stopped taking it to the basket.”

Davis did not think the Pelicans got tired, but he thought they did get sloppy with the ball (19 turnovers), which allowed Denver to get its running game going.

“They hit some tough shots in regulation and at the end of that first overtime, and in the second overtime shots weren’t falling (for us),” Davis said. “A lot of shots went in and out, shots that we normally make didn’t go in. It’s tough when you play that hard and that well and come up short. I wasn’t tired. I don’t buy into being tired. I train myself for them situations. We had good looks. We just didn’t connect.”

Leading 107-106 with 38.4 seconds left in the first overtime, the Pelicans tried to get the ball to the red-hot Davis, but guard Eric Gordon wound up with the ball as the shot clock was winding down. Gordon dribbled past guard Jameer Nelson on the left side of the lane and lofted a left-handed floater that found the basket, giving the Pelicans a 109-106 lead with 14.2 seconds left.

The Pelicans had a foul to give, but Barton canned a 3-pointer on a switch with 8.6 seconds left, making it 109-109. Evans then missed a driving layup, sending the game into a second overtime.

The game had ended 101-101 in regulation when Davis missed a straight-away 20-footer that went in and out.

Even though the Pelicans fell one game behind Oklahoma City (37-29), Williams said he was trying to keep it in perspective.

“You lose one game and it’s not like it’s a death sentence,” he said. “We got practice tomorrow. We’ve put ourselves in a good position. We all feel bad about it, but it can’t be tragic.”

NOTES: Pelicans G Tyreke Evans played his first game since spraining his left ankle on March 9. “He battles through a lot of stuff,” said New Orleans coach Monty Williams. “He’s one of the tougher guys I’ve been around when it comes to playing with pain. There were games when we thought he was going to sit out and he goes out there and has a big night.” … The Pelicans worked on their offensive sets during a rare four-day March break. … Playing the first of back-to-back games, Nuggets coach Melvin Hunt decided to rest two starters, G Randy Foye and F Wilson Chandler, as well as F Darrell Arthur, who is nursing a sore calf. “We’re going to figure out ways to get guys in a comfortable position, and if that’s resting a guy, we’ll rest him,” Hunt said. “We’ve got to have good long-term vision as well as short-term vision.”

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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