The first round series between the Orlando Magic and Atlanta Hawks will get underway Saturday at 7:00 pm EST at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida.
For the second straight year, the Orlando Magic will take on the Atlanta Hawks in the postseason. Last year, the Magic swept the Hawks during the second round of the playoffs in the most one-way playoff series of all time. Orlando won the four games by 101 total points, an average of 25.25 points per game.
The Hawks have won three of the four meetings this season:
Magic 93, Hawks 89
Hawks 80, Magic 74
Hawks 91, Magic 81
Hawks 85, Magic 82
Although the Hawks have struggled down the stretch, no one expects domination like that from the Magic this time around. It’s not because the Hawks have played better this season. In fact, they’ve played worse but expectations for this Magic team have gone down considerably because of their disappointing season. After two straight years with 59 wins, the Magic won just 52 games during the 2010-11 season and are just the fourth seed in the east (they had the second best record in the entire NBA last season).
If you just take a look at the statistics, you can tell the Magic have clearly been the better team this season. In fact, the Hawks have a negative point differential.
Record PPG OPPG Pace OEff eFG% TS% FT% DEff ORR TRR TO%
Orlando 52-30 99.2 93.7 91.4 107.7 52.1 55.5 69.2 101.8 26.1 52.1 25.0
Atlanta 44-38 95.0 95.8 89.3 106.1 50.1 54.2 77.9 107.0 23.4 49.2 23.4
OEff – Offensive Efficiency
eFG% – Effective Field Goal Percentage
TS% – True Shooting Percentage
DEff – Defensive Efficiency
ORR – Offensive Rebound Rate
TRR – Total Rebound Rate
As telling as the statistics are, the matchup has been much different this season.
The Hawks fired head coach Mike Woodson after being embarrassed by the Magic in the 2010 postseason and turned to Larry Drew.
Although Atlanta’s offense has fallen off and their defense hasn’t been consistent at all, the Hawks have done one thing consistently – they’ve played the Magic tough, winning three of the four meetings between the two teams.
The biggest reason for Atlanta’s success? Their defense of the Magic or to be more specific, their defense of Dwight Howard.
“Defensively, they are a lot smarter than they were,” Howard said when asked about the Hawks success against the Magic this season.
Larry Drew has decided to go big against the Magic, using a lineup consisting of Jason Collins, Al Horford, Josh Smith, Joe Johnson and Kirk Hinrich. Usually, Atlanta uses Horford, a natural four in the middle but because of Howard’s domination of the Hawks last season, Drew inserted Collins into the starting lineup.
“Collins is a great low post defender,” Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy explained. “That’s why he’s in the league.”
Collins has not only done a good job covering Howard but he’s been able to bait Howard into stupid fouls and limit his minutes.
The Hawks have also thrown ZaZa Pachulia and Etan Thomas at Howard at times this season.
Here’s a look at just how Howard has fared against the Hawks this season.
As you can see, Howard’s numbers are down across the board (outside of the slight bump in rebounding). He’s shot very poorly, gotten into foul trouble and has been baited into stupid mistakes. At times, the Hawks have inserted centers to literally beat on Howard – and it’s worked – causing Howard to grow increasingly frustrated, which is when he picks up and his cheap fouls (and technical fouls).
Still, you’d have to believe the league’s best big man can overcome the defense of any player in the league. If Howard can keep his cool and avoid bringing the ball down below his shoulders as he often does, he should be able to cut down on his turnovers and avoid getting into early foul trouble, which in turn, will make him a much more productive player.
The insertion of Collins isn’t the only reason the Hawks can defend Orlando better this season. At the trade deadline, the Hawks shipped Mike Bibby and Jordan Crawford to the Washington Wizards and received a new starting point guard – Kirk Hinrich. At this stage of their careers, Hinrich is clearly a superior player to Bibby and a much better defender.
The acquisition of Hinrich will surely help the Hawks defend Magic point guard Jameer Nelson. Nelson has played in just two games against Atlanta this season due to various injuries but he’s been very good in both, averaging 19.0 points per game on 53.6% shooting from the field. Nelson also torched the Hawks during their playoff series last year, averaging 17.25 points per game on 56.5% shooting from the field. He also dished out 6.0 assists per game while turning the ball over just six total times in the series.
Although the Hawks won the final game of the season between these two teams on March 30, Hinrich could not contain Nelson, allowing him to go for 20 points and five assists, while forcing just one turnover.
When Nelson is taking good shots, setting up his teammates and avoiding turnovers is when the Magic are at their best, so it will be up to Hinrich to slow him down.
Hedo Turkoglu has had an up-and-down season but he’s been more up than down recently. He’s limited his turnovers and has been more aggressive, which has led to better, more efficient from both Turkoglu and his team.
It’d be nice to see Jason Richardson take the ball to the hole a little more often but his shooting stroke could be the key to making this a shorter series. If Richardson is on, the Magic could make quick work of the Hawks. If he and the other shooters aren’t and they get too three-point happy, the Hawks could walk away with their third straight first round victory.
Speaking of the three-point shot, the Hawks have done a fantastic job defending Orlando’s outside game. The Magic have gone just 19-of-84 (22.6%) from beyond the arc against the Hawks this season. Atlanta’s big lineup is still very athletic so they’ve done an excellent job on closing out on Orlando’s three-point shooters. Nelson and Turkoglu need to get into the paint to make the defenders collapse on them (and Dwight Howard) to get easier shots for their teammates.
Richardson is also going to have to defend Joe Johnson, who despite his dip in production remains a very skilled scorer.
Turnovers have been a huge issue for the Magic all season long. Sure teams are going to turn the ball over but it’s the unforced errors the Magic have to cut down on.
Offensively, the Hawks have taken a step back. Too often they sit around and either wait for one player, usually Joe Johnson, to make a play or they settle for long, usually contested, jumpers.
Teams usually don’t challenge the Magic much at the rim for one, big obvious reason (Howard). In fact, teams took less shots at the rim against the Magic than any other team in the league. Despite those facts, the Hawks have to at least try to get to the basket if for no other reason than to get Howard in foul trouble. At times, the Hawks sit back and become jumper happy. They have to spread the ball around the floor and take good shots but none of these things are usually in the cards for the Hawks.
The Magic are the far superior rebounding team, mainly because of Dwight Howard but the Magic do have another very good rebounder in forward Ryan Anderson. Anderson hasn’t been very good in his two games against the Hawks, only grabbing two rebounds in each game but he’s averaged 5.5 rebounds per game this season and has a rebound rate of 14.5% Anderson has played some of his best basketball of late, averaging 12.0 points and 6.6 rebounds per game over his last 10, which includes a 28-point, 10-rebound performance in Howard’s absence against the Chicago Bulls. Anderson clearly can knock down the three but he’s done a better job of finishing around the basket in recent weeks, which will be key as the Magic bench tries to keep pace with Orlando’s second unit.
With Marvin Williams and Jamal Crawford providing instant scoring off of the bench, Anderson and Orlando’s other key reserves (Gilbert Arenas, J.J. Redick (if healthy) and Quentin Richardson) have to at least come close to keeping pace. With Arenas’ inconsistency and Redick’s health in question, this may be one of the biggest advantages the Hawks have. Atlanta’s bench is far from elite but unless Arenas can provide some scoring and make good decisions, this is an advantage for the Hawks.
Orlando’s starting power forward, Brandon Bass, has done a very nice job in a starting role for the Magic. He’s averaged11.2 points per game on 51.5% shooting from the field and grabbing 5.5 rebounds per game. Bass has done a better job of getting shots up around the rim this season and still has that nice shooting touch but it’s he and Anderson’s defense of Josh Smith and Al Horford, Atlanta’s second and third leading scorers that will play a big part in this series. They’ll have to keep an eye on Horford, because he’s a very good mid-range jump shooter. Despite his excellent shooting performance in Orlando’s last meeting with Atlanta, Orlando needs to keep Smith out of the paint and make him fall in love with the jumper, which he’s prone to do.
Overview: If Dwight Howard can avoid frustration, Jameer Nelson can perform up to the high playoff standard he set for himself last season, avoid stupid mistakes and get decent production out of their perimeter players (Turkoglu, Richardson, Arenas and potentially Redick); the Magic should be able to handle the Hawks.
Prediction: Magic in 6