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Suns shake off slow start, dispatch Knicks

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PHOENIX — After one quarter in which it was hard to tell which team has the worst record in the NBA, the Phoenix Suns stopped turning the ball over and started putting the New York Knicks away.

Brandan Wright stepped up for injured center Alex Len and produced 18 points and 11 rebounds, and the Suns shook off a poor start to beat the Knicks 102-89 Sunday.

“We’ve had some major changes (with trades and now injuries) and were a little sluggish in the first quarter, but after that, everyone played really well,” said Wright, whose eighth career double-double was his first as a Sun. “We did a good job of shaking off the bad start.

“We had 10 turnovers in the first half, and they were the kind we couldn’t recover from. They were getting run-outs and layups, and we had to clean that up. We had only three turnovers in the second half, and that was a big difference.”

Suns guard Eric Bledsoe added 21 points and 11 assists, and he just missed his third triple-double of the season, finishing with eight rebounds. Forward Markieff Morris scored 20 points for the Suns, who stayed three games behind the Oklahoma City Thunder for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot. The Thunder beat the Chicago Bulls Sunday.

The Suns (35-33) moved within two games of the ninth-place New Orleans Pelicans, who lost to the Denver Nuggets. The Suns and Pelicans meet Thursday in Phoenix.

“We were low on energy, and that’s what happens when you underestimate your opponent, which I feel like we did for the first quarter or so,” said Suns guard Archie Goodwin, who had seven points and set career highs with five assists and three steals. “Toward the end of the second quarter, we started playing really hard and we started respecting them, and I think that’s why we ultimately won.”

Center Andrea Bargnani and guard Alexey Shved had 18 points each for the Knicks, who are 5-30 on the road this season. New York (13-53) completed a 1-4 Western road trip.

Forward Lance Thomas added 14 points for New York, who lost two players during the game: guard Tim Hardaway Jr. with a sprained right wrist and forward Cleanthony Early with a sprained left ankle.

“We had (guard Langston Galloway and forward Lou Amundson) in foul trouble and we lost Tim in two minutes and Cle to a rolled ankle. We just couldn’t keep the fight going,” Knicks coach Derek Fisher said. “The Suns continued to make plays that a team in a position to make the playoffs or at least still competing for it will make. We just couldn’t sustain the fight.”

Playing without starters Len and Brandon Knight (ankle sprains), the Suns committed seven turnovers in the first quarter and watched the Knicks build an 11-point lead. Shved had seven points and capped an 11-2 New York run with a 3-pointer to make it 29-18.

“They were making everything they shot up,” Bledsoe said. “We knew to stay the course and keep our composure and it was going to change a little bit for us.”

New York still led 46-38 with 3:51 left in the half before the Suns came alive and closed with a 9-2 run, climbing within 48-47 on a driving dunk by Bledsoe with 8.9 second left.

Phoenix continued their surge and began to pull away in the third quarter, opening with a 12-3 run and getting nine points from forward Marcus Morris, who finished with 14. Center Earl Barron hit two jumpers in the final 2:02, and the Suns took a 75-66 lead to the fourth.

New York got as close as four points on two Bargnani free throws with 9:39 left, but the Suns answered with a 17-5 run to put the game away. Phoenix posted its biggest lead of the game at 96-80 on a Marcus Morris layup with 4:45 left.

“Overall, I didn’t think we played a bad game,” Bargnani said. “We missed shots inside and outside. I was wide open for two consecutive (3-pointers) and I missed them, and we missed some layups, and that’s what it really comes down to. If we hit those shot, I don’t know if we win or not, but we definitely put more pressure on them in the last five minutes.”

NOTES: Suns C Alex Len missed the game after spraining his right ankle for the third time this season. … The Knicks and Suns met for the 120th time, and the series is tied 60-60. The Suns led the series only once — 1-0, after taking the first meeting 109-92 on Oct. 24, 1968, in Phoenix. It was the fourth game in Suns history. … Knicks coach Derek Fisher played 33 games in US Airways Center, the most of any opposing player. For active players: Tim Duncan (31), Kobe Bryant (29), Dirk Nowitzki (29) and Kevin Garnett (27) are close behind. … The Suns came into the game averaging 18.7 fastbreak points per game, second in the NBA to Golden State (20.8). The Knicks are last in the league, averaging 8.5 fastbreak points. Phoenix finished with a 21-8 edge in that category 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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