NBA Playoff Preview: Breaking Down Orlando Magic vs. Atlanta Hawks
With their impressive Game Seven win against the Milwaukee Bucks, it's on to the second round for the Atlanta Hawks. Waiting for the Hawks is a well-rested Orlando Magic.
The Magic swept the Charlotte Bobcats in four games and have been resting last Monday. Orlando will host the Hawks for the first game on Tuesday night.
Let's take a look at these two teams as the Eastern Conference Semifinals begin.
Orlando: Jameer Nelson
With Dwight Howard struggling with foul trouble the entire series and Vince Carter being only as consistent as one might expect, Nelson had to raise his level of play for the Charlotte series.
Capped off by two 32-point performances, Nelson averaged 23.8 points in the four games against the Bobcats, nearly doubling his regular season output. Look for Jameer to continue his hot streak against the weak defensive backcourt for Atlanta.
Atlanta: Jamal Crawford
Surprisingly, this is Crawford's first time in the playoffs. Not surprisingly, he has made the most of his opportunity to shine.
In the final two games of the Bucks series, Crawford led the Hawks with a combined 46 points. This is the type of offensive output that earned Jamal the 6th Man Award for the 2009-10 season.
Orlando: Dwight Howard
Plagued by foul trouble throughout the first round of the playoffs, Howard has earned a new nickname, "Foul on You." The real joke has been Dwight's contribution to the Magic team statistically.
Averaging only 9.8 points and 9.3 rebounds a game is simply not going to get the job done against a potent and hungry Atlanta squad. Looking at prior performances against the Hawks, expect "Foul on You" to be saying "shame on you" to the detractors.
Atlanta: Josh Smith
Atlanta's X factor, Smith, has been taking a back seat to the trio of Jamal Crawford and all-star players Joe Johnson and Al Horford. Not to say that J-Smoov isn't playing up to par, but his numbers are down from his season averages across the board, except only in blocks.
Against Orlando's potent offensive attack, Smith will need to fight for the ball on defense if the Hawks look to have a chance of hanging with the Magic. How well Josh Smith plays may be the deciding factor in this series.
In four games during the regular season, Orlando bested Atlanta in the first three. The Hawks took the final game by two points at home, highlighted by Josh Smith's timely dunk just before the time expired.
Key trends in the season series show that Orlando should have the upper hand in the playoffs. Dwight Howard has had little trouble doing pretty much what he wants against the Atlanta bigs and should have his way with the Hawks.
Aside from Jamal Crawford, the Atlanta bench is no match for the depth of the Magic. Orlando will benefit from its period of rest most when it comes to bench play.
Keys to Victory
Orlando: Matt Barnes must do what he does best—get in the head of the opponent. His target will likely be Atlanta's top scoring threat, Joe Johnson.
If Barnes can take Johnson out to some degree, the rest of the Orlando team should have little trouble holding off the Hawks. Dwight Howard will need to avoid stupid fouls and stay on the floor for the Magic to perform to their capability.
Atlanta: The focus for the Hawks needs to be on defense against a dynamic Orlando squad. They may have no way to stop Howard, other than with some help from the officials, but the team has got to stop scoring from the wings.
With Mike Bibby becoming less and less effective, Jamal Crawford will be forced into some big minutes. He will be pinned with keeping Jameer Nelson in check while providing offensive production to keep Atlanta in the series.
10 Predictions for the Series
1.) Refs allow Dwight Howard to play a more physical game in the interest of keeping the marquee player on the floor.
2.) Vince Carter suffers an "injury" during the series—scaring fans, generating a load of speculation from the media and ultimately being forgotten.
3.) Al Horford plays solid basketball but receives little credit for his contribution.
4.) Josh Smith leads all players in "get the crowd on their feet" plays.
5.) The Magic players block out Stan Van Gundy's criticisms, even when the team is up by 23 points.
6.) Mike Bibby continues to disappear until his Wikipedia entry vanishes from the Internet and his name is never mentioned again.
7.) Jameer Nelson doesn't come near his 32-point games because he won't need to shoot the ball.
8.) One Orlando bench player will outscore Jamal Crawford in each game.
9.) Marvin Williams will, once again, prove that the Hawks should have picked Chris Paul or Deron Williams in the 2005 draft.
10.) Orlando in five.