Barring an incredible 8 game collapse on the part of Atlanta, coupled with an incredible 8 game performance by Philadelphia, it seems that the Hawks are fated to meet the Magic in round one of the NBA Playoffs. However, as the saying goes, “never say never.” Or maybe a more applicable one is “be careful what you wish for.”
The Last 8
The Philadelphia 76ers are currently four games behind the Hawks and have a semi-favorable schedule that does include 4 games against opponents with winning records. The Hawks have it worse, facing four top 4 seeds in their last 8 games. Maybe it’s a moot point right now. After all, Orlando is about as far behind Miami as Philly is behind Atlanta. So, the matchup most likely stands. However, the difference may indeed be how the Hawks and Magic play over their final 8 games.
In the case of the Magic, they already know their bread is buttered with Dwight Howard. If he’s happy and the perimeter jumpers fall, Orlando will go into the playoffs with a good attitude and will be very hard to deal with. The Hawks? Well, if they can’t find ways to beat teams with winning records, they will go into battle with a severe handicap, one they won’t be able to overcome.
Here Comes the Cliche…
Yes, it’s a “statement game.” It’s not a message to the Magic, although I’m sure they intend to send one to the Hawks. This game is a message from the Hawks, to the Hawks. Winning tomorrow night doesn’t give the Hawks a guarantee that they’ll be successful against the Magic when the playoffs start. What it hopefully does do, is help stabilize this team’s shakey frame of mind. Orlando hasn’t enjoyed the historic-level blowouts against Atlanta as they did last season, but as we all know, there is a difference between winning and “losing close.” So, tomorrow’s game simply can’t be approached as just another game. It’s a bit of a precursor, even if both teams don’t have all of their rotation players, much less at full strength.
Larry Drew will be happy to have his star guard back in the lineup, and he’ll also likely throw Jason Collins in there as a starter against Dwight. Of course, that will send Marvin Williams to the bench, so there is that. But what about changes in game plans?
Dwight has been on a tear for his team, and it’s probably a good idea to get Zaza and the other guys ready to help deal with him. Might the slender-but-athletic Hilton Armstrong get any minutes against the Beast of the East? How about the rarely-utilized-but-very-physical Etan Thomas? Drew may want to strongly consider how he’s going to approach this, particularly if Al Horford struggles in the game.
We can pretty much rule out another 30+ point performance from Marvin Williams, seeing as how he’ll be coming off of the bench. But…wouldn’t it be prudent to let him see as many or more minutes off the bench than say….Jamal Crawford? Fact is, Jamal is not playing well, and plays less well when he’s asked to be a point guard. Marvin, on the other hand, has historically performed well off the bench (certainly for the most part) when asked to do so this season, and contributes in many more areas than Jamal regularly does (rebounding, defense, etc).
Does Jeff Teague “find minutes” in a game like this, or will Drew stick with the point guard combination of Hinrich and Crawford? I almost hate to ask this question of some of us, but what should LD do with the backcourt in this game, and ultimately, with this impending playoff series? Now might be a good time to get a firm indication of who will be the most effective, or at least who will be the most effective in various scenarios. As much as we may hate to see LD tinkering, meaninful tinkering…well, it might just mean something a couple of weeks from now.
Part II of the preview will be based on the results of tomorrow night’s game, along with the end of the season and the down-and-dirty details of the playoff matchup. In the meantime, let’s see just how this game goes.