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Three Things We Learned Monday: Spurs, Warriors now tied for NBA’s best record

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Monday night saw some key games in the standings as teams try to shuffle for playoff positioning. If you were trying to re-watch the last season of Game of Thrones before the new season starts, here’s what you missed.

1) Kawhi Leonard returns, Spurs move into a tie with Warriors after comeback win over Hawks. We should have had a pretty good idea how this game was going to turn out — it has been 20 years since the Hawks beat the Spurs in San Antonio. Seriously. It was Feb. 15, 1997. The same week that the Spice Girls “Wannabe” became the No. 1 song on the Billboard charts. It’s been that long.

The Spurs were in control starting in the first half and drained 16 threes on their way to the win (which got competitive in the fourth). Kawhi Leonard was back on the court for the Spurs after missing Saturday’s game against the Warriors with a concussion, and he picked up right where he left off — 31 points, five rebounds, and four assists, plus playing strong defense and looking like an MVP candidate.

It’s not the game itself that was the news, but rather that the win moved the Spurs into a tie with the Warriors for the best record in the NBA (technically the Spurs are on top as they have the tiebreaker in that series, having won both meetings). The Spurs need to keep finding wins however because the Warriors now head home with an easier schedule the rest of the way — the Warriors have one more home game and two fewer games against teams over. 500 through the rest of the season. The key game, of course, is a rematch in San Antonio on March 29 (and again the Spurs catch the Warriors on the second night of a back-to-back in that game).

By the way, the loss by the Hawks hurt their goal of moving up to the four seed, getting home court against the Raptors in the first round. Toronto beat Dallas Monday night, so with the Atlanta loss the Raptors now have a two-game cushion.

2) Jazz rain threes on Clippers to get the win, solidify hold on four seed in Western Conference. Nothing is set in stone, but the Clippers and Jazz appear destined for a first-round playoff matchup as the four/five seeds in the West. That made Monday night’s matchup a playoff preview, technically, but what it really meant was a chance for the Clippers to move into a tie with the Jazz with a win. Whichever team gets the four seed gets home court in the first round.

Score one for the Jazz. Which defied history — the Clippers had won 17 of the last 19 games between these teams, including nine straight in Utah.

The Jazz changed history with a barrage of threes, In the first half, the Jazz were just 3-of-9 from deep (by design or poor execution, the Jazz got a lot of good looks that half against a sagging defense but did not knock them down). That changed in the second half when the Jazz hit their first nine attempts from three — Gordon Hayward in particular got looks, coming off screens or creating his own looks near the top of the key, and hitting 4-of-5 from deep in the second half. Hayward finished with 27 points.

This was also a great battle of point guards. Chris Paul carved up the Jazz defense in the first half, scoring 18 and looking like the point god he is. In the second half, Utah’s George Hill was working secondary actions on his way to 14 points half and 19 for the game.

The win gives Utah a two-game cushion for the four seed in the West. That’s not insurmountable by any means, but you’d rather have the cushion than not. The two teams play one more time before the season ends, in Los Angeles.

3) Ricky Rubio drops 19 dimes, sets Timberwolves record in victory. There are a surprisingly large number of Ricky Rubio haters on Twitter… although should we be surprised at the number of people who hate anything or anyone once they get the anonymity of social media? Rubio is far from a consistent shooter, but the guy is one of the games great passers, one of the better defensive point guards in the league now, and a fairly consistent game manager. He’s a quality NBA point guard.

Monday night he bested Scott Skiles Minnesota record with 19 assists in a game — 10 in the first quarter. That led the Timberwolves to the win over a hot Wizards team.

Devin Booker drops 70 points for Suns in loss to Celtics (VIDEO)

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Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker is just 20 years old. He’s a League Pass favorite, and indeed he should be a favorite in Phoenix for years to come. On Friday, Booker dropped 70 points — yes, 70 — in a loss to the Boston Celtics.

Booker’s 70 points is the best outing of the season. It also made him the youngest player to ever reach 70 points.

His final stat line, as you might imagine, was ridiculous. Booker shot 21-of-40 from the field, going 4-of-11 on 3-pointers and a whopping 24-of-26 from the free-throw line. The Suns phenom also grabbed eight rebounds to go with six assists.

Despite the loss to Boston, 130-120, it’s still an incredible milestone for Phoenix and for Booker. There’s a bright spot out there for the Suns.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon skies to finish amazing alley-oop (VIDEO)

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Aaron Gordon may not have had the best dunk contest this year — apparently drones and dunks don’t mix well — but the guy can still get up and finish with the best in the league.

As he did on this alley-oop against Detroit.

Elfrid Payton had to throw a lob that would get over Andre Drummond, but how many guys in the league can get that high, reach back and finish that? Damn.

Former Hawk Pero Antic’s celebration accidentally punches teammate in face in Eruoleague (VIDEO)

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Former Atlanta Hawk Pero Antic is now playing for Turkish powerhouse Fenerbahce, in case you were not aware.

Fenerbahce was facing Anadolu Efes in a EuroLeague game, it was tight late and former NBA player Ekpe Udoh was at the free throw line for Fenerbahce. He missed his second shot, but the rebound caromed out-of-bounds off an Anadolu Efes player. Antic was pumped.

Maybe a little too pumped.

Ouch.

That was Nikola Kalinic, by the way, the guy Antic now owes dinner to. Kalinic would like the dinner more than the hug and kiss he got from Antic right after the play.

Also, Anadolu Efes held on to win 80-77.

(Hat tip to Ball Don’t Lie.)

James Harden helped recruit Lou Williams to Houston

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The Lakers had been shopping Lou Williams around in the run-up to the trade deadline, the only question was would they get a first-round pick for him. Rumors around the league say that Houston had offered them one weeks before, it was on the table, but the Jim Buss/Mitch Kupchak front office held their cards close and hoped a better deal would come through.

While all that was going on James Harden decided to ease the process and did a little recruiting calling up Williams, the sixth-man guard told Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

“When James called, he asked me if I was interested in playing with them,” Williams told The Vertical. “I told him that I loved the Lakers, but James and them have a group that fit my personality, fit how I play. He said he was going to make it happen.”

Williams then laughed, sitting on the edge of a visiting court following a recent practice. “I’ve heard that before, so I didn’t really put stock into it,” Williams told The Vertical. “I guess James did put the word in, and the team made it happen.”

We all know what happened, Jeanie Buss removed her brother and Kupchak a few days before the trade deadline, Magic Johnston stepped in, called around, and quickly pulled the trigger on a trade that sent Williams to Houston (the Lakers also got Corey Brewer). Williams has averaged 14.5 points per game and had some strong performances with the Rockets, although he’s still finding his groove with the team on the court. Still, he’s been an upgrade for the Rockets’ bench.

Harden knew he would be, so he did his part to make sure it happened.