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Suns battle back to defeat Cavaliers

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CLEVELAND — Say what you want about the Phoenix Suns, but they are a resilient bunch.

“We are a really hard-nosed team,” Suns guard Goran Dragic said. “It doesn’t matter if we are up or down 20 points. We are still going to battle until the end.”

The Suns (25-18) battled back from a 20-point deficit in the first half to shock the host Cleveland Cavaliers, 99-90, on Sunday before 15,872 at Quicken Loans Arena.

It was a collapse of epic proportions.

The Cavaliers had to have been feeling good about themselves in the first half, as they took an 18-point lead into the locker room.

Some were suggesting it was their most complete half of the season.

All that changed in the second half, as the Cavs crumbled and were outscored, 56-29.

“I’m disappointed that we came out and played that way,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said. “We should all be embarrassed with the way we played in second half.”

The Cavs’ major damage occurred in the third quarter. A 3-point barrage by the Suns started the second half with the Cavaliers on the heels. By the time the third quarter was over, the Cavs had been outscored, 25-6.

The Suns were suffocating defensively in the third, as the Cavs shot a woeful 2-for-22 from the field. NBA teams don’t oftentimes shoot nine percent from the floor for an entire 12-minute quarter.

The six-point effort was a season low for the Cavs in any quarter this season. It also tied a Suns’ franchise record for fewest points allowed in a quarter. It came close to tying the Cavs’ all-time mark of four points in a quarter.

Forward Channing Frye connected on all three 3-point goals in the third. The Suns made five of 12 from behind the arc in the third.

“It was hard to watch,” Brown said.

He said the coaches conferred with the players at halftime, encouraging them to continue to defend and to close out on the Suns’ shooters.

“We came out and did the opposite of everything we talked about,” Brown said.

Suns forward Markieff Morris came off the bench and had a game-high 27 points and 15 rebounds.

Dragic added 15 points, five rebounds and seven assists, while forward P.J. Tucker had 13 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and two steals.

“They outworked us in the second half, simply put,” Cavs guard Kyrie Irving said.

Irving had a team-high 24 points, a game-high nine assists and two steals for the Cavs. He was 8-for-23 from the field, including 0-for-3 from the 3-point line.

Forward Luol Deng finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, while forward Tristan Thompson added 17 points and 13 rebounds.

The Cavs suffered a major scare with 4 minutes, 25 seconds left in the game when center Anderson Varejao fell awkwardly to the court. He held his left knee. However, he stayed in the game. He had just two points, but pulled down 10 rebounds.

The medical staff said it’s general wear and tear on his knee. He’ll be further evaluated on Monday.

“I was worried,” Brown said. “His knee was bothering him a little bit. It was tough to see.”

The Cavs opened up a 61-43 advantage at halftime, but fans were still a bit wary. They’ve seen them blow leads like that before.

“I got on our case pretty much about defense,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. “In the first half, we didn’t give an effort. I said they average 96 points, and they have 61 already.

“I said to come out in the second half and play defense like we are supposed to, be aggressive, and you’ll slowly climb back in the game.”

Brown said the turning point came when the Suns came out for the second half and made five 3-point goals, three by Frye, in a span of 3:41.

“Part of it was them hitting five 3s — bang, bang, bang, bang, bang — and them gaining confidence, and us starting to wonder,” he said. “I didn’t see lack of effort, (maybe) a lack of focus.

“Channing Frye was just standing out there. We relaxed mentally, and did things weren’t supposed to do.”

NOTES: The Cavs dropped to 1-3 on the five-game homestand that ends on Tuesday vs. New Orleans. Remember, this was supposed to be the homestand that jump-started their serious playoff push. “It’s very frustrating,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said. … The Cavaliers recalled F Sergey Karasev and G Carrick Felix from the NBA Development League. Brown said the action they received in the D-League was “priceless.” … Cavs big men Anderson Varejao (10.3) and Tristan Thompson (9.8) are pulling down a combined 20.1 rebounds per game. Among Eastern Conference duos, they trail only the Detroit Pistons’ Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe, who combined for 21.5 entering Sunday. … G Goran Dragic, the Suns’ leading scorer and playmaker, has a fan in Brown. “I thought since he’s been in the league, if he had a team that’s his own, had the right people around him and in the right system, he could really do some damage,” Brown said. … Suns G Eric Bledsoe (right arthroscopic knee surgery) should be back sometime after the All-Star break. He came on the team’s four-game East Coast trip to do his rehab work with the training staff.

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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