These can’t be the same guys that got swept in the most embarrassing fashion in the 2009-2010 playoffs, can they?
The Atlanta Hawks made dubious history in last season’s playoffs, losing to the Orlando Magic by a record number of averaged points. The only way they could do worse is to make history again, by giving up a 3 games-t0-1 lead to the Magic in this year’s first round series. NBA history is on the Hawks’ side, and unless Dwight Howard’s supporting cast decides to don a collective set of capes, the Hawks will drive on to round 2 of the NBA Eastern Conference playoffs.
Half Empty, Half Full
Most folks didn’t give the Hawks much of a chance against the Magic in this series, but now some quickly changed their tune, even before last night’s win. But what do the fans think of all of this? Did the Hawks fool us all season long into believing that they are less than they truly are? Have they reached their potential? Or is Orlando truly that bad, despite the dominating performance of Dwight Howard? Just how accurate our incredulity is, is a testament to how confusing this team can be. After losing the final six games of the season, there was little hope that the Hawks would come into this series with their heads held high, and a major chip on their shoulders. The Hawks haven’t just gotten the matchup with Orlando down pat, they’ve even figured out how to press the advantages they have.
On the other hand, this past season (and offseason) saw Orlando make some big roster moves to try and get over the hump and back into the Eastern Conference Finals. Perhaps it’s unseemly to give the opponent more discredit than to give the home team credit, but rest assured of one thing – if the Hawks cruise into the second round of the playoffs and suffer a beating, every headline about THIS series will read about the fall of the Magic and NOT the rise of the Hawks.
Glass half empty…or half full?
On the defensive side, the differences between this year’s team and last year’s is at the center and point guard positions. With Jason Collins spending 6 fouls and roughly 18 minutes getting under Howard’s skin, the Hawks finally put themselves in position to defend the monstrous center one-on-one, and no longer subjecting them to futile run-outs at wide open shooters. At the top of the key, guard Kirk Hinrich holds his own, successful or not (Jameer Nelson has been scoring pretty well of late), once again, eliminating the frantic and ineffective help defense of the past.
But for my money, the biggest difference makers in this series are Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford. Both guys stunk up the joint last postseason, scoring below their season averages and not shooting well enough to be a threat to anybody serious. This year has been a different situation altogether. Not only is the high scoring backcourt duo playing well, they’ve both stepped up their games in regard to field goal percentage and attack effectiveness. Facts are facts, and the team’s two best scorers allow the Hawks to have a balanced attack, which has been just enough to beat the Magic’s two man game.
One more win, and the Hawks prove that they’ve passed the Orlando Magic litmus test. But is it enough? Are the Hawks truly better than we thought they were, or are they just better than the Magic now?
Big Ray, Hawks Fan Nest Blog