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Originally published January 14, 2014 at 9:31 PM | Page modified January 14, 2014 at 10:21 PM

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Memphis defeats Oklahoma City in Marc Gasol’s return


The Associated Press

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Memphis Grizzlies celebrated the return of Marc Gasol with a victory over one of the league’s top teams — and one of their biggest rivals.

Courtney Lee scored a season-high 24 points, including the closing two free throws, and the Grizzlies beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 90-87 on Tuesday night in Gasol’s first game in almost eight weeks.

While Lee provided the early offensive punch for Memphis, many teammates were talking about the return of Gasol, the league’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, who missed 23 games with a left knee injury. The 7-foot-1 center played 24 minutes and finished with 12 points.

“Everybody is excited, especially for him,” said guard Mike Conley, who had 19 points and seven assists in Memphis’ third straight victory. “He’s been itching to get out there forever, and I thought he did great. It gave us a good boost.”

Gasol, whose return was not announced until just before the game, received a rousing ovation from the Memphis crowd when he was introduced with the starting lineup. He said the cheers gave him “goose bumps” and made him feel like a rookie again. He said the knee did not bother him, but the large knee brace he is wearing is uncomfortable.

“It felt really good, especially since we got the win,” Gasol said of the knee. “That makes everything worth it.”

Zach Randolph had 23 points and 13 rebounds on the night his inside partner returned.

Kevin Durant led the Thunder with 37 points, converting 15 of 28 shots. Reggie Jackson scored 17, but also committed seven of Oklahoma City’s 19 turnovers.

Notes

• For President Barack Obama, seeing the Miami Heat at the White House on Tuesday was like déjà vu.

A year after congratulating LeBron James and company on winning their second league title, Obama was doing it again. And so soon.

James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, their teammates and coaches, earned another White House visit by following that championship win with another last year. They topped the San Antonio Spurs in series that went the full seven games. A big basketball fan and recreational player, Obama described in detail how the Heat rallied from behind with less than a minute on the clock to win Game 6 before clinching in the seventh.

“This group has now won twice but it’s gone to the finals three times and, sometimes, it feels like they’re still fighting for a little respect,” Obama said, adding: “I can relate to that.”

The Heat won NBA titles in 2006, 2012 and last year.

Paul George scored 31 points, making four three-pointers, to lead the Indiana Pacers to a 116-92 victory over visiting Sacramento.

The victory clinched the Eastern Conference coaching spot for Frank Vogel, since the Pacers are guaranteed to have the best winning percentage in the conference through games of Feb. 2 with Miami’s Erik Spoelstra ineligible after coaching last year.

DeMarcus Cousins had 31 points and 13 rebounds for the Kings (13-23).

Al Jefferson scored a season-high 35 points, Kemba Walker had 12 of his 25 in the fourth quarter and host Charlotte snapped New York’s five-game winning streak with a 108-98 victory.

Luol Deng hit five three-pointers while scoring 27 points, Anderson Varejao had 18 points and 18 rebounds, and visiting Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Los Angeles Lakers 120-118. Jodie Meeks scored a season-high 26 points for the Lakers.

• Former North Carolina swingman P.J. Hairston has a new team: the Texas Legends.

The Legends of the NBA Development League said they had acquired the Tar Heels’ leading scorer from last year. The team said Hairston — who didn’t play at UNC this season due to NCAA violations — is the first player to enter the NBDL at midseason after starting the year in college.



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