ORLANDO — Welcome to the NBA playoffs. Trying to project how long the Hawks stay here is sort of like guessing which direction a ping-pong ball will fly in a wind tunnel.
They started the season with six straight wins and ended the season with six straight losses. In between, they defeated tonight’s playoff opponent, Orlando, three out of four times. They also defeated the likes of Chicago and Boston. But they also lost nine games by at least 21 points (five of those games at home).
The Magic are not a great team. They are certainly beatable. But the Hawks have excelled at folding and beating themselves often this season. So flip a coin.
Here are a few obvious keys:
♦ Toughness (physical and mentally): The Hawks will go with their “big” lineup, which means Jason Collins at center, Al Horford and Josh Smith sliding down to power forward and small forward, respectively, and Marvin Williams on the bench. Coach Larry Drew will rotate Collins, Zaza Pachulia and Horford (and possibly others) against Magic center Dwight Howard, hoping to wear him down. As previously noted, the Hawks need to play physical. But just as important they can’t wilt mentally like they did so often during the regular season when things got difficult.
♦ Joe Johnson: Notwithstanding his curious comments to our Michael Cunningham — “I don’t get all of the glory when we win, so I don’t get to take all the [blame] when we lose” — Johnson needs to come up big in this series. If he can hit his jumper, something he hasn’t done enough of this year, it opens up things significantly for Horford and Josh Smith.
♦ Smith: He should have an advantage at the offensive end going against the Magic’s Hedo Turkoglu, who is not a great inside defender or rebounder. That means Smith can’t settle for the long-rang jumper, as he has done too often this season.
We’ve seen this team play some great games this season and we’ve seen some major flops. So you’ll go no predictions in this corner. But yes, this is a winnable series.
That’s all for now. Turning if over to you. We’ll live blog starting at tip-off.
By Jeff Schultz