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Playoff Assist: Shooters help shape last stretch of NBA playoff races

By Zach Harper | NBA writer

As we get closer to the 2014 NBA Playoffs, the push to secure a playoff berth and playoff positioning is the daily topic of conversation around the league. Let's take a look at five teams who are fighting for their playoff lives and the positioning to move on past the first round.

Gerald Green's career shooting has assisted the Phoenix Suns' playoff push:


Gerald Green has barely been able to stick around in the league in the nine years since he joined the NBA. His inability to be a solid defender while also struggling to provide a consistent offensive impact for teams kept him from being a stable part of a team's rotation. But his improved 3-point shot has turned around his career and he has the Phoenix Suns' faith in him to thank.

He'd taken 661 career 3-pointers prior to this season. Suns' coach Jeff Hornacek has trusted him to let it fly with 476 attempts this season alone. He's making 39.3% from downtown and the Suns are better offensively with him on the floor. Green had 24 big points in a huge win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday to move a game ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies for the 8-seed.

JJ Redick's return to the Los Angeles Clippers extends their offensive firepower:


The Los Angeles Clippers are 18th in 3-point percentage this season at 35.4 percent. Their inability to hit at a high clip from downtown is really the only thing keeping them from being impossible to contend with on offense in a playoff environment. JJ Redick's return to the lineup after a back injury will probably go a long way in helping them boost their 3-point accuracy this postseason.

Adding a 39.4 percent shooter from downtown this season and career 39.0 percent shooter back sounds pretty good. They're five points per 100 possessions better offensively with him on the floor. They've relied on Matt Barnes (34.1 percent on 264 attempts) and Willie Green (33.6 percent on 119 attempts) to take a lot of those outside shots in Redick's absence and now can stretch the floor even better for Chris Paul and Blake Griffin to operate.

Jose Calderon needs to keep shooting to help the Dallas Mavericks stay playoff bound:


Prior to this season, only four players in NBA history had attempted over 400 threes in a season while making at least 45 percent of them, and two of those happened last season when Kyle Korver (45.7 percent on 414 attempts) and Stephen Curry (45.3 percent on 600 attempts) both accomplished this. Jose Calderon is about to become the fifth player to do it as he sits at a ridiculous 45.4 percent from downtown on 414 attempts.

His 59.9 percent true shooting percentage has been phenomenal this season and a big reason they need him to shoot more. The Mavs need him to keep taking outside shots, specifically. They're 16-17 this season when he takes fewer than five 3-pointers in a game and 31-14 when he's taking five 3-point attempts or more in a game. They need him to help spread the floor and to start chucking when the ball swings to him.

Jeff Teague's maturation in season has helped Atlanta stay in the 8-seed:


Jeff Teague had 25 points in a thrashing of the Indiana Pacers on Sunday, creating huge separation between the New York Knicks and the Atlanta Hawks. He struggled to find his shot early in the seaso, but he's become more comfortable in Mike Budenholzer's system as the season has progressed.

Teague made just 41.2 percent of his shots and 25.6 percent of his 3-pointers prior to the All-Star break but has improved to 47.4 percent from the field and 42.7 percent from downtown since All-Star weekend. He seems much more comfortable in the way he attacks and it's reflected in his superb shooting percentages when a battered Hawks team has needed him the most.


J.R. Smith is finally embracing what the New York Knicks should have been doing all along:


The New York Knicks have taken nearly four fewer 3-pointers per game this season than they did during the 2012-13 season when they set the NBA record for most made threes by a team. The struggles they've had offensively are related to not relying so much on shots from deep. They're hitting on threes at almost an identical clip to last season (37.6 percent last season, 37.2 percent this season) but the lack of extra points can't help mask their bad defense.

We should applaud J.R. Smith for his record setting 22 3-point attempts Sunday because he's clearly trying to make up for the lack of outside shots this season. He's taken 60 threes in his past four games and it's what the Knicks should have been doing all along. They need space on the floor and it's the best way to create it when you're not full of great scorers that move the ball. Keep chucking, J.R., even if it makes Nick Young blush.

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