What does Shaq in Boston say about Atlanta? Well, it's not good.

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Thumbnail image for Hawks_loss.jpgAtlanta’s management felt the Hawks got pushed around by the Orlando Magic when they were swept out of the playoffs last year. Because they were.

So what did they do about it?

Nothing, really. I like Josh Powell, he is a better player than he gets credit for (he’s solid as a role player off the bench) and he has maybe the best iPod playlist in the league. Powell now has a couple of rings. But that experience and playlist are not bringing rings to Atlanta.

The Hawks did go after Shaquille O’Neal, but the ownership — a consortium of investors GM Rick Sund has to get on the same page for major decisions — would not make the serious commitment, according to Jeff Schultz at the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Boston had the more title ready team — they have just been to the finals — so Atlanta needed to make a bigger financial commitment.

The Hawks can be an entertaining team. But they’re also a flawed one. Signing Josh Powell and Jason Collins doesn’t cure their size problem in the post. Al Horford is playing out of position. This decision more likely ensures that they again will be the No. 4 playoff seed in the East and exit in the second round.

How much of this is the result of money? A lot. Ownership and general manager Rick Sund did not want to go into a tax situation with the salary cap. That meant not doing anything of significance to improve the team in free agency this offseason (other than overpaying to keep Joe Johnson).

The Hawks have $67 million in committed salary for 12 players right now (via Sham Sports). Throw in the cap holds and they are at the tax line of $70 million. By the time the Hawks sign a couple more minimum salary guys to round out the roster, they will be flirting with the tax line.

Shaq could have put them over that line. And what he has left as a player may not have taken the Hawks any farther in the playoffs.

But the fact is the East got better. Orlando, Miami and Boston are contenders. Chicago is nipping at their heels. Milwaukee is going to be right there, maybe just a step back. Atlanta may well be the four or five seed going into the playoffs again, but then what?

Then they get what they paid for.

Three Hawks lose uncontested rebound out of bounds (video)

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How did Mike Scott, Mike Dunleavy and Malcolm Delaney fail to secure this rebound?

No wonder the Hawks lost to a Clippers team playing without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

James Harden makes impressive chase-down block. Really. (video)

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If we’re going to post all of James Harden‘s defensive lowlights, it’s only fair to acknowledge this impressive block.

Please overlook the fact that Jason Terry is 39 years old.

Steven Adams posterizes Rudy Gobert AND Derrick Favors with one thunderous dunk (video)

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Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors form an impressive defensive tandem that usually walls off the paint.

If there were any walls here, Steven Adams jumped right over them.

Video Breakdown: How Kyle Lowry dismantles NBA defenses from 3-point range

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Toronto Raptors star Kyle Lowry is arguably the team’s best player thanks in large part to his increase in 3-point shooting ability this season. He’s just above 43 percent from deep this year, much better than his career average of 36 percent. Lowry has increased his 3-point percentage six points over last season, and he’s a big part of why the Raptors are so good on offense, and why they’re a contender in the Eastern Conference.

So how does he do it?

Watch the full video breakdown on Lowry’s 3-point shooting above, or read the text version of the article below.

Early Offense

I looked at a lot of tape of Lowry over the last 3 years and he hasn’t changed much on his shot mechanics. There’s no big change in his sweep or sway toward the basket when he shoots, and he still brings the ball up from his left side.

Part of his leap is be how quickly he’s getting his shots off and how many of his early offense field goal attempts come in the form of 3-pointers.

Lowry has bumped up how many 3-pointers he’s taken in the early offense, recorded here as between 24 and 15 seconds on the shot clock. Year-over-year he’s taken nearly eight percent more of his field goals as three pointers in this range.

This takes form on the court in a couple of ways, both in transition on the fast break and on quick 1 or 2 dribble pull ups off the pick-and-roll.

Transition

With the ball in secondary transition here, Lowry gets a quick screen from DeMarre Carroll to open him up for a 3-point bucket against the Hornets. And that’s still with 18 seconds left on the shot clock!

Pull-up and off-the-bounce jumpers

The other way Lowry scores quickly is off the dribble, with quick pick and rolls. Toronto is great at screen assists — picks leading to an immediate field goal — and have three players in the Top 50 and two in the Top 10 in setting them.

Here, the Celtics defender cuts off Lowry’s attack to the middle of the floor. The screener sets up to Lowry’s right, but then quickly flips it to his left. One dribble, and it’s an easy 3-pointer.

Here against Portland, the Raptors run a two screen setup with one wing and one post. The Blazers make the switch and try to blitz Lowry, but he stays resilient and sinks the bucket with what little space they allow him anyway.

Working with DeMar DeRozan

The other thing that’s been talked about a lot is the gravity of DeMar DeRozan, who himself is having a career year for the Raptors. While Lowry is making a ton of unassisted 3-pointers this year, the Raptors point guard does benefit from DeMar.

Part of that is how good they are in transition together.

Here you can see DeMar bringing the ball up the court with Lowry in front of him. He sets the screen, then fades to the arc. Three Utah Jazz are trying to stop DeRozan, and Lowry is left all alone.

When he’s not the primary ball handler on the break, Lowry will immediately get out to the wing. DeRozan has a way of finding him to get up quick Js.

Of course, in good old set plays the Raptors see this gravity effect as well.

Here Toronto is running another double screen with a guard and a post, but Lowry is one of the screeners. At this point, all three Heat players are guarding against DeRozan’s midrange jumper, leaving just enough daylight for Lowry.

Toronto is also third in the NBA in “hockey” or secondary assists, which means two or more passes leading to a made field goal.

On this baseline out of bounds play, again it’s DeRozan’s gravity that frees up Lowry. As the ball is inbounded, DeRozan sucks three warriors defenders with him, including Lowry’s. Meanwhile, Kyle is running down the baseline to get a bucket off a pass on the opposite side of the floor. All the raps have to do is rotate the ball.

So that’s a little bit on why Kyle Lowry has been so good. It’s been about shot selection, decisiveness, and some practice in addition to the effectiveness of his teammates.