My serious summary is this: The Hawks have proven, on the court, that they match up very well with the Magic, even when the Hawks don’t bring their “A” game. If the team is able to defend Howard one-on-one and maintain the defensive blueprint for closing out their shooters, as they have consistently this season, then they can win 4 out of 7 games against this team and move on.
I believe they can and will do just that.
Final Prediction: Hawks in 7
Now, back to my padded white room.
“[Team X] will only go so far in the postseason as [Player Y] takes them” is an axiom in professional sports, and almost invariably [Player Y] is indisputably the team’s best player. As it applies to the Orlando Magic in this year’s playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks–or against anyone–Dwight Howard is [Player Y]. And it’s equally popular to say, in life at large, that axioms become popular because they are true.
That axiom does not apply in this case.
What Howard does for the Magic–end opponent possessions, score inside, space the floor for his teammates–will be there every night, no matter the opponent, based solely on the consistency and reliability his reputation and skill afford him. No, for the Magic to do anything of note this postseason, the task falls to Jameer Nelson.
More than any other player, even Howard, Orlando’s diminutive point guard makes the team go offensively. Nelson’s skill in running the pick-and-roll, as either a driver or shooter, fits perfectly in coach Stan Van Gundy’s pick-and-roll-heavy approach, while his ability to hit jumpers off the catch helps space the floor and enables him to play off the ball if necessary. It’s true against all teams.
There will be elbows, there will be bruises, there will be complaints about the refereeing, there will be technical fouls. This series will be tucked away among the least-attractive television time slots, but it could be the tightest matchup of the first round in the East. Atlanta will make things ugly, but it can’t hold Howard down in every game, and Orlando has enough outside shooting to make the Hawks pay for giving Howard too much attention. Magic in six.
Jamal Crawford: Put simply, Atlanta need scoring off the bench so they need Crawford. They really need last-season’s Crawford, who operated out of isolation sets and simple pin-downs to get him free. This season Larry Drew made the Hawks offense more complex and Crawford has been one of the guys struggling to adjust. They need him now.
The Magic aren’t much different from this Hawks team. The same Hawks team that’s two months away from auctioning off Josh Smith and conceding that the current roster just isn’t good enough to compete in the East. Orlando’s got Dwight instead of Joe Johnson, so things don’t appear quite as dire, but the pieces around Dwight are even worse than Atlanta’s supporting cast. So, split the difference, I guess? The Pick: Orlando in 6.
The Hawks barely limped into the postseason, playing under .500 basketball for a stretch coming in, and having lost six games in a row. While the Magic have not exactly been on a tear themselves, their recent results were significantly better than those in Atlanta. However, the way these two teams have matched up throughout the season would suggest an entirely different result. How these competing bits of conventional wisdom interact will yield the winner in this series, one that should be competitive and hotly contested.
Prediction: Magic in six
Michael Cunningham, Hawks beat