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Spurs roll, push Blazers to brink of elimination

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PORTLAND, Ore. — The San Antonio Spurs continue to show the Portland Trail Blazers what championship-level basketball is all about.

Guard Tony Parker scored 20 of his 29 points in the first half as San Antonio whipped Portland 118-103 on Saturday night at the Moda Center.

Forward Tim Duncan collected 19 points, seven rebounds and four assists for the Spurs, who took a 3-0 lead in the Western Conference semifinal series. San Antonio can wrap up the best-of-seven series with a win on Monday night.

“The close-out is always the hardest game,” said Parker, who made 12 of 20 shots from the field and also had six assists. “We know Portland is going to come out and play with a lot of motivation. (The Blazers) have nothing to lose.

“I’m sure they want to win a game in front of their hometown. We’re going to have to match their energy, but it would be great to get it and get a rest.”

The Spurs trailed for 17 seconds — when Portland led 13-12 in the first quarter — in Game 3. The Trail Blazers have led for less than two total minutes in the three games thus far.

“We’re just playing great right now,” Parker said. “We’re very focused.”

Five players scored in double figures for San Antonio, including forward Kawhi Leonard with 16 points, guard Manu Ginobili with 14 and guard Patty Mills with 10.

Four players scored 20 or more points for the Trail Blazers. Guard Wesley Matthews led the way with 22. Guard Damian Lillard and forward LaMarcus Aldridge each had 21 and forward Nicolas Batum had 20 to go with nine rebounds and seven assists.

As in the previous two games, San Antonio jumped to a double-digit lead early and led 60-40 at halftime.

“It’s frustrating,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “We’re playing a championship-caliber team. You look at the scoreboard and you’re down 20. It’s a hole that’s hard to dig out of.”

San Antonio has posted four straight lopsided victories since beating Dallas 119-96 in Game 7 of their first-round series.

“This is well as I’ve seen (the Spurs) play all season,” Stotts said. “They came out of the gate in Game 7 against Dallas and they haven’t stop since.”

Parker was the driving force, taking command on offense and helping force Lillard into a 7-for-21 shooting performance at the other end.

“Tony has been the engine for us,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “He started out really well tonight. He made shots, he involved everybody else, he played great ‘D.’ He’s playing a complete game.”

The Blazers used a 10-2 run to go in front 13-12 early, but it was their only lead. The Spurs regained control, finishing the quarter on a 16-5 tear to take a 28-18 advantage into the second quarter. Parker had 12 points on 6-for-8 shooting from the field in the quarter.

The Spurs stoked the lead to 58-35 late in the second quarter and took a 20-point advantage into intermission.

Portland made a run in the first five minutes of the third quarter, outscoring San Antonio 17-4 to draw within 64-57. The Spurs righted themselves to go back in front 72-60 and carried an 83-69 advantage into the fourth quarter.

When Parker and Leonard converted back-to-back three-point plays, San Antonio’s lead was 103-81 with 7:43 to play and the Blazers seemed in big trouble. Portland scored the game’s next 10 points to cut it to 103-91 with 5:46 on the clock, but it was as close as the Blazers would get.

“They never stop playing,” said Aldridge, who had a game-high 12 rebounds but was only 9 for 23 from the field. “You guard their first option, they go to the second. You stop the second, they go to the third. They’re persistent.

“They’re going to run their stuff over and over, and once you mess up, they’re going to make you pay. Tonight, they did that. They play championship basketball. It’s what we have to get to.”

NOTES: The Spurs shot 48.3 percent from the field and were a franchise-playoff record 25 for 25 from the foul line. It was the first time a San Antonio team has not missed a free throw in a playoff game. … San Antonio scored 17 points off 10 Portland turnovers in the first half; the Blazers scored no points off the Spurs’ giveaways. … The Spurs had a 40-6 advantage in bench points. For the series, the difference is 140-43. … The Trail Blazers were without sixth-man G Mo Williams, out with a strained groin. … Before Thursday’s Game 2 at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Blazers F Thomas Robinson found a snake in his locker. Did the Spurs find any animals in their locker room at the Moda Center before Saturday night’s game? “No,” Popovich said, “but we were expecting a beaver.” (Oregon is the “Beaver State,” and the beaver is the mascot at Oregon State University.)

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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