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Associated Press

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.

Kawhi Leonard returns with 31, Spurs top Hawks, tie for No. 1 seed

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Kawhi Leonard scored 31 points in his return from a concussion and the San Antonio Spurs tied Golden State for the NBA’s best record with a 107-99 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night.

San Antonio made a season-high 16 3-pointers in its 19th straight home victory over Atlanta. The Spurs and Warriors are 52-14 with 16 games remaining, including the final regular-season matchup between them on March 29.

Atlanta point guard Dennis Schroder had 22 points and 10 assists, shooting 10 for 22 from the field. Tim Hardaway Jr. added 17 points, but the Hawks had their three-game winning streak snapped.

San Antonio’s Patty Mills had 15 points and Danny Green added 14. The starting guards combined to shoot 7 for 12 on 3-pointers and the team finished 16 for 34 on 3s.

David Lee had 14 points in place of LaMarcus Aldridge, who missed his second straight game with a minor heart arrhythmia. Aldridge’s status remains unknown.

The Spurs were also without injured point guards Tony Parker and Dejounte Murray, but Leonard returned from a one-game absence after suffering a concussion in the second half against Oklahoma City last Thursday.

Leonard made five straight shots, including a step-back, fadeway jumper at the close of the first quarter, after missing his first two attempts. The buzzer-beating shot gave San Antonio its first double-digit lead at 28-18.

The lead swelled to 15 but the Hawks were able to rally behind a season-high 23 turnovers by the Spurs.

Atlanta outscored San Antonio 14-8 in the opening five minutes of the fourth quarter, pulling to 89-87 on Hardaway’s baseline drive and dunk.

TIP-INS

Hawks: Atlanta has not won in San Antonio since Feb. 15, 1997. … Mike Dunleavy missed his eighth straight game with an inflamed right ankle. Dunleavy has played in 19 games for Atlanta since being acquired in a trade with Cleveland. . The Hawks are 22-14 since Dec. 28. . The Hawks have 15 games remaining, including seven at home, as they battle for one of the East’s top four seeds. . Atlanta is 33-9 when scoring 100-plus. . Atlanta, which is averaging 23.6 assists per game, had 27.

Spurs: San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said Aldridge underwent further tests Monday outside of San Antonio but his status remains unknown. “No, we’re just going to wait until he comes back and assess him,” Popovich said. “I think he’ll be back either tomorrow morning or tonight, I don’t know which.” . Leonard has scored at least 19 points in his last 28 games, including 20-plus in 24 of those outings. . Parker missed his third straight game with back stiffness. The 34-year-old has missed 13 games this season due to injury and sat out two others for rest. . Murray missed his second straight game with a left groin injury. . C Pau Gasol played in his 1,104th career game, moving past former Spurs and Mavericks star Michael Finley for 64th in league history.

 

Karl-Anthony Towns, Ricky Rubio lead Wolves over Wizards, 119-104

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Karl-Anthony Towns ran back onto the court after the final horn, almost tackling Ricky Rubio as he did a postgame interview with the local Fox Sports affiliate.

Towns put up another enormous stat line, scoring 17 of his 39 points in the fourth quarter as the Minnesota Timberwolves kept rolling against another heavyweight opponent. But he said he played second fiddle on this night.

Rubio scored 22 points and broke his own franchise record with 19 assists, and the Timberwolves beat the Washington Wizards 119-104 on Monday night.

“He almost single-handedly won us this game tonight,” Towns said of his point guard. “So, we just picked up with any pieces he could give us.”

Nemanja Bjelica added 16 points and 10 boards off the bench for the Timberwolves, who entered the game 3 1/2 games behind Denver for the eighth seed in the Western Conference. Minnesota shot 52 percent and Rubio topped 20 points in back-to-back games for the second time in his six-year career.

John Wall scored 27 points for the Wizards, who fell 2 1/2 games back of Cleveland for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Bradley Beal added 20 points, but Washington lost for the first time in six games. They finished a tough, five-game road trip at 4-1.

“We were ready to go 5-0. No excuses,” Wall said. “We just didn’t come out and play great defensively.”

Rubio has been playing the best basketball of his life over the last two months, and it has culminated with a brilliant week against some of the best point guards in the league. He outplayed Chris Paul and Stephen Curry in home victories over the Clippers and Warriors last week, then put up 22 points and eight assists in a loss at Milwaukee on Saturday.

But he’s never been better than in the first quarter against Wall and the Wizards. Threading bounce passes through windows that weren’t even open, Rubio doled out 10 assists in the first quarter. Bjelica was a primary beneficiary, catching a 40-foot outlet pass for a layup and a bounce pass that squeezed between two defenders and onto his fingertips for a layup that put the Wolves up 35-14.

“Some nights you see things a little different and it gets easier,” Rubio said. “Tonight in the first quarter I really saw different things out there. I was trying to set the tempo from the beginning and being aggressive.”

The Wizards were undaunted, having come back from a 21-point deficit in the first half to beat Portland on Saturday night.

Wall got off to a slow start shooting, but he attacked the rim relentlessly to help Washington climb back into the game. Wall made 14 of 19 free throws, Beal converted a four-point play and Wall’s two freebies made it 102-97 with 4:21 to play.

But Towns hit a 3 and two free throws, and the Wizards couldn’t find the energy to finish another furious comeback in their fifth game in seven nights.

“I don’t make excuses, but I’m not going to sit here and act like we’re not tired,” Beal said. “It is what it is. We take this loss like a man and we move on from it.”

TIP-INS

Wizards: Wall was chosen Eastern Conference player of the week after averaging 29.8 points and 11.3 assists. … Bojan Bogdanovic had 12 points but made just 1 of 6 3s off the bench.

Timberwolves: Towns was named Western Conference player of the week after averaging 29.0 points and 12.3 rebounds in three games last week. … Rubio’s 10 assists in the first quarter tied Paul’s third quarter against New Orleans on Dec. 10 for most in a quarter this season.

TOWNS’ TECHNICAL

Both Towns and coach Tom Thibodeau picked up technical fouls for arguing with the officials about contact against the big man in the paint. And afterward, an exasperated Thibodeau said he can’t figure out what he has to do to get more calls for Towns.

“I’m asking the officials. I’m asking the league,” Thibodeau said. “There’s a lot of contact there. He’s got to keep going, I guess.”

 

Longtime Knicks broadcaster John Andariese dies at 78

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NEW YORK (AP) — John Andariese, a New York Knicks broadcaster for more than 35 years, died Monday. He was 78.

The Knicks confirmed Andariese’s death, but did not provide a cause.

A star player at Fordham and member of the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame, Andariese started as a Knicks radio analyst in 1972 alongside Marv Albert. He later spent 12 seasons as a TV analyst for MSG Network from 1986-98 before returning to the radio side, retiring before the start of the 2012-13 season.

Nicknamed “Johnny Hoops,” Andariese was honored with the Curt Gowdy Media Award from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2014.

Born Aug. 19, 1938, Andariese was a three-time All-City player for Fordham from 1956-60 and is a member of the school’s Hall of Fame. He made his broadcasting debut doing college games in the 1968-69 season before joining the Knicks a few years later.

Andariese also was one of the first collegiate basketball color analysts for ESPN and eventually became co-host of NBA2Night with Greg Gumbel.

He later worked for Turner Sports for two years before being rehired by the Knicks to work with Albert again.

John Wall hits ridiculous, falling, circus shot vs. Timberwolves (VIDEO)

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The best part of this is he had the English on the shot to make it stick.

John Wall was going to the ground and decided to put the shot up (likely looking for an and-1, although he didn’t get the call) and spun in one of the best circus shots of the season.

This ended up being a very entertaining game, with Ricky Rubio doing his part for the show and leading the Timberwolves to the win.