Washington Wizards v Cleveland Cavaliers

Kyrie Irving would like to remind you he is very good. And Cavaliers win.

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You know why the Cleveland and Washington were on the NBA opening night schedule along with marquee teams like the Lakers, Heat and Celtics? Because the NBA likes to showcase its future, and here were John Wall and Kyrie Irving to entertain you… except John Wall is out for a while with a cracked patella.

That’s okay, Kyrie Irving can put on enough of a show for both of them.

Irving dropped 29 points and keyed a 14-4 run late and the Cavaliers fought to hold on and win a game they should have run away with against a depleted Wizards team, final score 94-84.

Watch that game and you came away reminded that Irving is on his way to joining the stratosphere of NBA point guards — he’s not Chris Paul or Deron Williams yet, but he will get there. He has the shot (he was knocking down threes) and the court generalship to get there and he displayed them all. Most importantly, he picked the right times to shoot and the right times to dish.

There were other bright spots if you’re a Cavs fan — Anderson Varejao owned the glass and had 23 rebounds, 12 of them offensive; Tristan Thompson had a dozen points, 7 in the fourth quarter during the Cavs run to seal the game; and rookie Dion Waiters completely outplayed his counterpart Bradley Beal.

Still this game was a lot tougher than it should have been. The game was tied 24-24 late in first quarter as Washington puts up points by pushing ball in transition and kicking out for three –Beal has figured out to run to the arc in transition and the Cavs had not figured out how to cover that.

But then late in the first the Wizards went cold shooting — 28 percent in the second quarter — and by the half the Cavaliers had pulled away. They led by 11 at the half and by 16 at points in the second and third quarters.

Varejao was a big part of that as he was hustling on the glass and really wanted the rebounds, which set him apart from seemingly everyone in a Wizards uniform. Remember that Varejao was tearing up the boards last season until his broken wrist.

Then the Cavs looked like a young team that couldn’t close out games. Washington made a 14-0 run start the fourth quarter behind the offensive powerhouses that are Jannero Pargo and Jordan Crawford (who led all Wizards with 11 points). A lot of that has to do with some terrible defense by the Cavaliers bench.

One thing you can take away from this game — Washington is going to struggle to put up points until John Wall and Nene return. The shot 35.6 percent for the game and 25 percent from three, and let’s just say this is not the best defense they are going to see in the next week (two games against Boston, plus the Pacers).

Once Irving and the starters for the Cavaliers got back in the game, order was restored. It wasn’t an impressive win, not when guys like Donald Sloan are getting a lot of run, not the way the Cavs bench played. But it’s a win to start the season, the Cavs will take it.

Oh, and Kyrie Irving is really, really good.

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.