What are the Atlanta Hawks doing right?

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Among the bouquet of surprises in this most unpredictable of NBA playoffs, the one that gets me:

The Atlanta Hawks are good.

I mean playoff good. They’ve been regular season good for a few years now, but when the lights got brighter, the teams better and the defenses more focused the Hawks were not a threat.

But this season, they beat Orlando and sent that team’s fan into a very nervous state. Then they took Game 1 from the Bulls.

What is going on here? This is basically the same roster that scared nobody for the last couple years, why now?

The best of the Hawks bloggers, Brett LaGree broke it down at TrueHoop. And it starts with one thing we knew would be a boost — Jason Collins. The seldom-used big man allowed the Hawks to single cover Dwight Howard in the first round, then everyone else could stay home on shooters. And it worked.

But the biggest change is at point guard. For the past couple years, that was Mike Bibby. That was a problem. But in the first round it was Kirk Hinrich, brought in from the Bulls and he was good on Jameer Nelson, one of the few other Magic players who could create his own shot. Without Hinrich locking up Nelson it was a lot of Hedo Turkoglu. Advantage Hawks.

But Hinrich is down with a strained hamstring against the Bulls, forcing Jeff Teague into action. A talented backup point guard who never really developed for the Hawks. (Does anyone ever really develop for the Hawks? Another issue for another day.) LeGree explains:

Teague played less than 14 minutes a game and suffered through 12 DNP-CDs during his second season in the league, facts baffling in the wake of the 84 quality minutes he’s played in two games against Chicago. He’s played solid defense, mostly matched up against the league’s MVP (though Teague moved over to chase Kyle Korver around screens some in Game 2) while also shooting 50 percent from the floor, earning eight assists and committing just a single turnover. It’s fair to wonder if the Hawks would have been better than a 44-win team had Teague’s quickness been used more regularly in the regular season.

The same “little used but showing he can ball in the playoffs” storyline is there for Zaza Pachulia. Which brings us to coach Larry Drew. Who came into the playoffs on the hot seat but now….

But Drew deserves credit for the Hawks’ defensive gameplan and execution in the first round and how well the team ran Drew’s much-discussed but not-especially-effective-during-the-regular-season motion offense in the first game in Chicago. Based on these eight playoff games, the long-time NBA assistant, but rookie head coach, looks to be learning on the job, rather than, as had been suggested in the local media, in over his head.

Beating the Bulls still seems unlikely at best. But in these playoffs… I’m done trying to figure it out. The Hawks go home for Game 3 and no outcome will surprise me anymore.

Jamal Crawford says Lonzo Ball should not change his shot

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Lonzo Ball‘s shot has become a running gag around the NBA. During pregame warmups this season it looked like LeBron James and Joel Embiid mocked/tried to imitate it. TNT’s Inside the NBA was asking if it was worse than Charles Barkley’s golf swing, and the crew on that show mocks it all the time.

Ball is shooting 30.3 percent overall this season, and 23 percent from three. He’s shooting just 42.1 percent in the restricted area (it’s not just his jumper that is off). He’s shooting 37.5 percent on pull-up jumpers. He’s shooting 22.5 percent on shots when there is nobody within six feet of him (stats via NBA.com).

Is it time to tear down Ball’s awkward release and rework his jumper? Jamal Crawford, a guy who knows something about getting buckets in the NBA, said no, speaking on CBS Sports’ Flagrant 2 Podcast.

“No, I wouldn’t (change his shot). He’s done it his whole life. Even if he struggled, I’m sure he’s struggled, but when he makes 10 in a row you won’t change it then so I’d just keep it consistent.”

Crawford also said he sees a real star in Ball.

“Star. Absolutely a star. I love watching him play. He plays the right way. He doesn’t play for stats. He’ll give the ball up early when he could easily hold it to get an assist. He’s making the right play if it was a hockey assist he’d get 20 a game cause he’s always passing up early. He seems like a great teammate. If you look at all his interviews…he’s always well spoken he’s always about the team.”

Luke Walton has the Lakers players taking and making 100 threes at each practice, and he continues to encourage Ball to shoot his way out of this slump. Magic Johnson has said the Lakers would not change Ball’s jumper during the season.

But if Ball does not find a rhythm and is under 40 percent for the season on jumpers, come next summer the Lakers have some decisions to make. And tearing down and rebuilding Ball’s shot is a long process that will take more than one summer of hard work.

PBT Podcast: Celtics win over Warriors, all things Boston with A. Sherrod Blakely

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The Boston Celtics are for real.

In case you had any doubts, they ran their streak to 14 wins in a row by coming from 17 down – twice — to beat the Golden State Warriors. The Celtics have the best defense in the NBA, and it threw the Warriors off their game, something few teams have been able to do over the past few years.

Kurt Helin welcomes in A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston to talk about what this win means to the Celtics, why their defense is so good, how Kyrie Irving is fitting in, how young stars such as Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are rising up, and what is the deal with Marcus Smart. Also, there is a lot of Brad Stevens love.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Grizzlies’ Mike Conley out at least two weeks with sore heel, Achilles

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Injuries are already starting to shape the playoff chase in the West — Rudy Gobert is out for at least a month in Utah, and the Clippers have lost six in a row as they battle injuries to three starters.

Now add the Memphis Grizzlies to the mix.

Mike Conley, the point guard who, along with Marc Gasol, is crucial to Memphis’ success, will be out at least two weeks to rest a sore left heel and Achilles, the team announced Friday. He could be out longer, Conley has had issues with this Achilles before, the team will want to be cautious, and by far the best treatment is rest.

Conley averages 17.1 points per game, is a great floor general running the offense, and is a quality defender at the point.

Memphis is 7-7 on the season and tied with Oklahoma City for the final playoff slot in the West, but the Grizzlies have dropped six of their last eight. What’s more, they are entering a gauntlet part of the schedule without Conley: Their next game is against Houston, then Portland, and in the next 10 they have the Nuggets, Cavaliers, Timberwolves, and Spurs (twice). The danger is they fall far enough back from the playoff chase they struggle to catch up again.

Expect to see a lot more Tyreke Evans, who has been strong as a sixth man but now will have much more asked of him. Also, more playmaking duties will fall to Gasol, working out of the elbow, and both Chandler Parsons and Mario Chalmers will get the ball in their hands. The question is what do they do with it.

Stephen Curry, was Warriors/Celtics a Finals preview? “Very, very likely, right?”

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The Golden State Warriors remain the prohibitive favorite to win the NBA title.

Thursday night, the Boston Celtics earned some validation that they belong in the conversation. Using a stymieing defense that threw off the vaunted Warriors offense, Boston came from 17 down in the third quarter to beat the Warriors.

With the Cavaliers stumbling out of the gate, does this make the Warriors/Celtics game a Finals preview? Stephen Curry (who was 3-of-14 shooting with four turnovers on the night) said yes, as you can see in the NBC Sports Bay Area video above.

“Very, very likely, right?” Curry said. “They’re playing the best right now in the East. Obviously, they need to beat Cleveland, who’s done it three years in a row. We’ll see, but I heard the weather’s great here in June.”

The weather in Boston is great for a short window in the spring, then the humidity kicks in. But that’s not the point.

I came into this season thinking the Celtics were a year away still, and when Gordon Hayward went down it strengthened that belief. But this team is a contender now — they are far better defensively than expected, and young players Jaylen Brown (22 points against the Warriors) and Jayson Tatum have stepped up more than expected. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford have developed a fast chemistry. And Brad Stephens is proving he is in the very upper echelon of NBA coaches.

It’s not even Thanksgiving, talk of the NBA Finals is premature. Curry is right, the Celtics still have to go through LeBron James and his Cavaliers to reach the Finals, which will not be easy.

Still, June basketball in Boston seems like a real possibility again.