The playoffs are heavily upon us now.
These initial matchups are frantic and selfish, but entertaining as hell.
Let's break down the battle in the Magic Kingdom.
Early on Howard needs a Walton-esque post game. Hedo Turkoglu and J.J. Redick are spot-ups that could feed heavily off Howard's double-teams, while players like Jason Richardson and Brandon Bass can finish strong if Howard's dishes are clean.
Jameer Nelson, like Howard, dropped an abnormal 27 points. That wouldn't be necessary if everyone else got involved. Hands down, Nelson needs to be a catalyst and not just a scorer.
It's sad to watch Gilbert Arenas. His timid, unsure bombs and basket-forays draw sneers from his former self. Arenas plays like a man in a duel who's fired first and missed and is waiting to be shot down. He should just be grateful that he's playing at all and not quite the NBA's version of Plaxico Burress. The Magic sorely need his second-option ability in these playoffs.
On the other side, Atlanta is a high-flying squad with a larger Dr. J-incarnate, Josh Smith, tomahawking dunks like the rim insulted his family. Those are sweet. But the Hawks faithful would rather see Smith reject some of Howard's shots to the Epcot Center. Shoot, he's the only one on the hardwood that can.
Sixth-man candidate Jamal Crawford (30 minutes per game though?!) showed his fine form again, dropping 25 points with five boards. The hop-happy Hawk has handles that Richardson and Redick can't control. Their best hope is to get the quicker and beefier Jameer Nelson on the bench-star more often to make him work harder and limit his effectiveness.
Atlanta's balanced game is its greatest asset. Al Horford and Kirk Heinrich shot exceptionally and need to keep it up.
As a team, Atlanta nailed 51 percent from the floor and notched only nine total turnovers compared to the Magic's 18.
If the Magic want to win Game 2 they need to ratchet up Howard's sloppy play. He had eight turnovers, nearly getting a tragic triple-double.
And while the Magic netted 45 percent from the field, it would have been around 30 percent if Nelson and Howard hadn't shown up.
Game 2's outcome is a toss-up, but Atlanta's game plan is much more solid so far.
Though watch out if Howard decides to flex his Defensive Player of the Year status. He's by far the scariest person to see if you're coming down the lane.
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