How the Hawks just might make some magic of their own

Dwight Howard? He's really good. This guy? He ain't chopped liver. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

Dwight Howard is really good. This guy ain't chopped liver. (AJC photo by Curtis Compton)

We here in Atlanta wonder how the Hawks can possibly guard Dwight Howard and his surrounding shooters, but it cuts both ways. No opponent relishes the thought of facing a team this gifted in a best-of-seven. (Ask Boston.)

Asked what he thought the Magic sees in the Hawks, Jamal Crawford said Monday: “I think they’d see a talented team, very athletic, that could pose problems.”

At peak capacity, the Hawks are good enough to fell a team as sound as Orlando, and Orlando stands as 1B to Cleveland’s 1A not just in the East but in the whole wide NBA. The Magic is favored in this series, but the favorite doesn’t always win. The Hawks were a bigger favorite in Round 1 and were 24 minutes from elimination.

“That can be fun,” Crawford said, speaking of being the underdog. “The pressure’s on them.”

The local consensus has long been that Orlando is the one team the Hawks cannot handle, and on the record that has been true. The Magic won six consecutive meetings over the past two seasons; indeed, the Hawks went more than a calendar year — from Oct. 28, 2008 to March 24, 2010 — without beating their Southeast Division cousin. But Orlando is tough on everybody (Cleveland most notably), and if you look hard you’ll see the Hawks have a puncher’s chance.

This is one of the rare teams that has the option of attempting to guard Howard straight up. Mike Woodson said Monday he hadn’t decided if the Hawks would enter Tuesday’s Game 1 allowing Al Horford, who was the MVP of great escape against Milwaukee, to tug on Superman’s cape by his lonesome. “I have to sleep on it,” the coach said.

But is such a strategy feasible? Woodson: “Without a doubt it is. But we doubled [Howard] in the game we won [in March], and we doubled him in the [Thanksgiving night] game where we had the lead.”

Not many Magic opponents have such a choice. Lacking even a semblance of a center, they have to surround Howard and leave themselves open to the Magic shooters, and that can be worse. Yes, Howard led the NBA in field-goal shooting, but Orlando was also fourth-best in 3-point shooting. “Pick your poison,” Woodson said.

Play Howard one-on-one and he might score two points. (Or, if you foul him, only one. He’s a terrible free-throw shooter, as we know.) Double him and his team might get three. The guess is that the Hawks will try it both ways, shotgunning their fouls with Horford and Zaza Pachulia and the seldom-seen Jason Collins, but the series figures to turn on how long Horford can stay on the floor and how much he can make Howard work at the other end.

Howard averaged only 26.5 minutes in Round 1 against Charlotte because he was called for 22 fouls. (Magic teammates dubbed him, “Foul On You.”) And that was against the tag team of Theo Ratliff, Tyson Chandler and Nazr Mohammed. Horford is better than all three of those put together.

Round 2: Who wins?

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Everybody who does one of those matchup boxes will give the edge at center to the Magic, but it’s not as big an edge as you’d think. If Horford can, on a nightly basis, hold Howard to 20 points and 15 rebounds while getting 12 and 10 himself, the Hawks could steal this thing.

“If we can get Al through the first half,” Woodson said, meaning keep him out of early foul trouble, “I think we can play.”

My first inclination was to take Magic in six, but something about this matchup leads me to think it’ll go the distance. And where would the weight of expectation in such a Game 7 fall? Not on the Hawks.

The Milwaukee series was strange: The Hawks went from too loose to too tight to almost gone. But they made it through, and they see real opportunity in Round 2. So do I. Hawks in seven.

126 comments Add your comment

GT Alum

May 3rd, 2010
3:20 pm

Mark Bradley

May 3rd, 2010
3:26 pm

First, GT Alum. Kudos.

SOUTH GA DAWG FAN

May 3rd, 2010
3:28 pm

I hope the hawks pull it out but I will honestly be happy if they battle for six or sevin games , and i mean a real war . but i would take a sweep if the hawks are the ones holding the brooms

allan in texas

May 3rd, 2010
3:28 pm

I am getting that strange feeling too. Hawks in seven!

wilmer

May 3rd, 2010
3:28 pm

you are absolutely crazy if you think the Hawks will win this series…you are no match for the Magic!!!!!!

SOUTH GA DAWG FAN

May 3rd, 2010
3:28 pm

3rd alright I was in the money !!!!!

Mark Bradley

May 3rd, 2010
3:30 pm

I am out of my mind. No news in that, I’m afraid.

Willy

May 3rd, 2010
3:31 pm

D B Cooper

May 3rd, 2010
3:32 pm

Enough of this waffling. a few days ago you had the Hawks as Magic Meat. Go write for the National Inquirer

matt r

May 3rd, 2010
3:33 pm

But this is why we love Mr. Bradley, because he tugs at our inner optimist, always making sure we have hope.

Let him Joe

May 3rd, 2010
3:34 pm

We have to play hard from the first quater to the last. Joe Johnson has to step up! After it is all said and done, we need to focus on adding D. Wade a player that will carry his team when needed and let Joe go. You know Joe the only leading scorer for his team never to top 30 points in the playoffs, even when the team really needed it.

jdewayneatl

May 3rd, 2010
3:35 pm

First?

Hawks in 6!!!!!!

Joey

May 3rd, 2010
3:36 pm

Woodson: If we can get Al through the first half …”

Why not start Collins and bring in Horford in the second quarter?

Andy

May 3rd, 2010
3:36 pm

Nooooo! You are suppose to pick against the Hawks Mark! Now they are sure to lose.

SOUTH GA DAWG FAN

May 3rd, 2010
3:37 pm

well for joe its now or never his contract depends on it , and I think he has to come up big in wins not drop 30 in a 15 point loss, whats the saying win or go home. that sums up more than just the series doesn’t it.

Joey

May 3rd, 2010
3:38 pm

And we like you like that (out of your mind), MB!

PMC

May 3rd, 2010
3:39 pm

Shake and Bake is over huh. The new Hawks are the Magic Men?

GT Alum

May 3rd, 2010
3:40 pm

Wow. I honestly wasn’t even trying. I was really surprised to finish reading the article and not see any comments.

I believe that the Hawks are capable of giving the Magic all they can handle and more. But since we’ve never seen them play up to their potential in more than spurts, I’m still skeptical that they’re going to be able to string together enough good basketball to win this series – especially since we just saw a textbook example of their inconsistency.

mountain_jim

May 3rd, 2010
3:44 pm

Hawks have a chance if Mark leaves the live blogging to Jeff. :)

Wes Unseld

May 3rd, 2010
3:46 pm

Sometimes, a shorter center can hang with the big fellas. Or, so I’ve heard.

[...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mark Bradley. Mark Bradley said: How the Hawks just might make some magic of their own http://bit.ly/cccz4L [...]

mike

May 3rd, 2010
3:48 pm

hawks steal game 1.. hawks in six.. magic havent played in a week, hawks have momentum

Tale of Woe

May 3rd, 2010
3:55 pm

MB – I love you man, but don’t let the euphoria of the last series boil over to this one. The Magic will win in 5, Woody will finally be fired, and then we will complain about the next coach.

allan in texas

May 3rd, 2010
3:57 pm

Everyone picked the Cavs to win last year. Oh yeah, most people picked the Cavs to win it all this year too so we shall see.

Pistol Pete Wannabe

May 3rd, 2010
4:00 pm

Go, Hawks, Go!

NC Braves Fan

May 3rd, 2010
4:00 pm

Love ya, Mark, but I gotta co-sign mountain_jim at 3:44pm. :lol:

Bat Masterson

May 3rd, 2010
4:01 pm

Ha, it might be a crazy pick Bradley, but I’m with you. Call me a contrarian.

F-105 Thunderchief

May 3rd, 2010
4:04 pm

Much as I’d like to see it, I don’t see the Hawks lasting past five or six games.

Mr. Phil

May 3rd, 2010
4:07 pm

Hope you are right Mark. I would love to see Al put on an unexpected defensive display this series and we shock the world. If that happens, I will officially forgive them for falling asleep against the Bucks.

BTW-to my Hawks. Sorry for doubting.

bruce mac

May 3rd, 2010
4:11 pm

Yawn, Hawks lose in five and everyone knows it especially the Hawks.

CrazyDiamond

May 3rd, 2010
4:21 pm

I am hopeful, as usual. I hope the Hawks can pull an upset and win the round vs the Magic. Stranger things have happened. The team should not doubt their ability to win in the second season – they’ve earned every win so far this year (and let a few slip away, too). No time to hate on the Hawks or Woody now. Plenty of time for that later.

soldierman

May 3rd, 2010
4:24 pm

I say why not, Pass me a glass. I’ll drink some of the kool-aid. Since we’re shooting for the sky hell I got the hawks in 4! Biggest upset in NBA History!

Big Ben

May 3rd, 2010
4:26 pm

See, I was a role model for Zach Mettenberger, apparently.

Reality Check

May 3rd, 2010
4:28 pm

Mark, I understand that you media types have to throw a bone to the locals every now and then, but this is the Hawks. They struggled against a mediocre foe two years in a row,get routinely blown out on the road and do not show up for multiple games in a series. It would be nice if the Hawks can win two home games, but look for blowouts in games 1 and 2 before they come home. That is realistic and the Hawks may not make it past five games.

GT Alum

May 3rd, 2010
4:32 pm

Ugh, well I guess that answers the question about what CMR knew that the rest of us didn’t.

Fresh

May 3rd, 2010
4:33 pm

Mark,

I love every, single blog you write about the Hawks. Just please refrain from posting live during games until we figure out a way to break your evil spell on the team.

Herschel Talker

May 3rd, 2010
4:35 pm

No chance.

1. Their coach is a fool
2. They never care until it is almost too late
3. Their coach is a clown
4. Joe Johnson is too busy thinking about his Chicago or NY benjamins
5. Their coach is as dumb as Bobby Cox

James B.

May 3rd, 2010
4:49 pm

Mark,

The Hawks can beat any NBA team when they play unselfish basketball. Unfortunately, they have three players–Joe Johnson, Jamal Crawford and Josh Smith–who don’t play unselfish basketball on a consistent basis.

When Joe Johnson first arrived in Atlanta, the talent level on that team was best served when he took the lion’s share of the shots. However, the talent level on this year’s team is best served when he serves as a facilitator, setting up his teammates for open shots (if you remember, that was the role BK envisioned him filling on the team) and avoid selfishness on the court.

Even though he won the Sixth Man of the Year Award, the same thing holds true for Jamal Crawford. Remember when Jamal first arrived in Atlanta and his teammates raved about his ability to pass the ball? Everyone knows he can score but there have been too many occasions when he takes shot after shot without anyone else touching the ball. Invariably, his teammates replicate that behavior (shooting the ball as soon as they touch it) on offense and stops covering for each other on defense.

At the start of this season, Josh Smith’s stated goal was to become make the All-Star team–a personal achievement rather than a team-oriented goal. The Hawks are at their best when Josh is playing like a front-court player; dominating the game like very few others can by focusing his enormous talents on defending, shot-blocking and rebounding. However, there are times when it seems as thougn Josh wants to be a point guard; dribbling to lead the fast break, making no-look passes and shooting from behind the three-point line. Even though he is better at these things than he was three years ago, he hurts the team when he stops playing like a forward and starts playing like a guard.

One of the jobs of a Head Coach to make certain the team plays within his system. As a Bob Knight/Larry Brown disciple, Coach Woodson employs a team-oriented approach to offense and defense which emphasizes selflessness and is based on the tenet that the success of no individual player is more important than the success of the team. Yet, for whatever the reason(s), Woodson never seems to use the withholding of playing time as a means to modify/control the behavior of any of these three players when they place their individual desires ahead of the team.

Everyone knows the Hawks have the talent to get to the Eastern Conference Finals and beyond when they play unselfish basketball. Here’s the real question–can and will Coach Woodson do what’s necessary to make that happen?

Mark Bradley

May 3rd, 2010
4:50 pm

I don’t know that this would be the biggest upset in NBA history. The Hawks are the No. 3 seed to the Magic’s No. 2.

heartofdarkness

May 3rd, 2010
4:51 pm

First game, have Josh Smith play Howard. Play behind, don’t reach for feed. Pressure passer to make feed to low post difficult. Have Smith absorb Howard’s shoulder drive, which should be called a foul but often isn’t. Collapse on him with different players from a variety of angles looking to force a pass, which statistically favors a turnover. If the officials are from the NFL, put a big reserve to absorb the shoulder foul and then grab, sending Howard to the line. When a shot goes up, all Hawks have to push toward the basket, restricting Howard’s ability to maneuver with the ball. Play him passively when he has position to throw down [low percentage you will get him to miss] Forget about fast breaks when Howard is in the game.

DHunt

May 3rd, 2010
4:57 pm

Hawks in 6. Now having said that. I can also see very clearly the Magic winning in four because he gets outcoached. That’s the elephant in the room that no one in the major media, local or national, is willing to examine. The Milwaukee game turned on coaching. Yes there were some mental lapses from players, but if Woodson doesn’t wise up and get the guards to fight through some screems and stop leaving Al to guard Jennings, the Hawks don’t survive game 6. He made the right move in time. But it shouldn’t have taken so long to figure that out, and he won’t have as much time or opportunity to make adjustments against Orlando, and they have the personnel to make some adjustments themselves, unlike the Bucks.

Personnel wise the Hawks match up fine across the board against any team in the league. We may give up something at one or two starting positions, but we always have clear advantages in others as well as one of the better benches in the league. But we have been consistently out-coached in tight situations all year. That’s been the difference in the Hawks being just a good team as opposed to a great one. This isn’t me doubting the team. These are simply the facts.

After we raise the NBA championship trophy, Fire Mike Woodson.

Jay.

May 3rd, 2010
4:59 pm

If Joe Johnson, Jamal Crawford and Josh Smith play unselfish basketball, the Hawks can beat the Magic. Conversely, if Joe and Jamal play too much one-on-one (iso Joe/Jamal) and Josh stops dominating defensively in a misguided attempt to be Atlanta’s version of LeBron James, the Hawks will get swept.

When they play unselfish basketball, the Hawks can beat any NBA team. The question is not whether the Hawks can beat the Magic in this series. Can Coach Woodson convince Joe, Jamal and Josh to play unselfish basketball for 48 minutes is the real question.

IMO–the jury is out on that question–leaning more toward no than yes–which is why, despite winning 53 games, many people feel this team underachieved.

Flip-flop

May 3rd, 2010
5:06 pm

Seriously, the waffling is ridiculous. Four days ago you write “I keep wanting to believe the Hawks are going to win this series, but I no longer have any basis for it.” Now you’re picking them to beat the Magic. For the record, I have no problem with you picking them to win. It’s the constant overreaction that I take exception with. It’s a problem from the people who post on this blog, but I would expect the writer himself to stay a little more level-headed.

The Hawks isn’t the most egregious example. That would be the Braves. Within nine games, you went from saying the Braves have something special brewing to saying they aren’t going to win anything as presently constituted. Now they’ve started a 3-game winning streak so I’m sure you will be flipping again soon enough (actually I hope, again it’s the negative overreaction that bothers me more than anything).

SWAT Native

May 3rd, 2010
5:27 pm

Mark,

Despite all the ribbing about being a jinx, we do enjoy your live blogs!

NoShamSam

May 3rd, 2010
5:30 pm

Sorry…I see the Hawks loosing in 5…I’ll be rooting for them the whole time…but they just shoot too well…and then, there is Howard.

vanomania

May 3rd, 2010
5:38 pm

How about as many people as possible go out and get one of these. Make an amulet out of it and wear it to the game. I’ve got my order in and will be there for game 4.

http://www.amazon.com/Superman-Kryptonite-Crystal-Shard-Sticks/dp/B000GKWGT2

All I'm Saying Is...

May 3rd, 2010
5:39 pm

This may sound simplistic but with these Hawks and this opponent, I say that if we can win one of the first three games in this series, then we can certainly win four. The key is that first win must come prior to being down 3 to 0 and we can’t be down 3 to 1 as Magic are too good to spit the bit on a 3 to 1 series lead. Ideally, we win the first or second game but I’ll take the third & fourth. Magic haven’t been tested in the playoffs this year and we can exploit that if we stay close as they will likely not execute well down the stretch especially at home (we all know stan van gundy can coach but he can also panic) plus given their propensity to rely on the three, odds suggest they will have at least one night where they shoot lights out but also at least one game where they shoots bricks from behind the arc.

LET’S GO HAWKS!

JSS

May 3rd, 2010
5:40 pm

How Golden State beat the Washington Bullets (AKA the Atlanta Braves of the 1970’s) is the greatest upset in pro basketball history… Al Attles, you got to be kidding me!

All I'm Saying Is...

May 3rd, 2010
5:40 pm

NoShamSam: Losing is spelled with one ’s’ and you can’t spell Magic without the ‘c’ as in brick which is what their propensity to shoot the three can lead to.

LET’S GO HAWKS!

Veteran Fan

May 3rd, 2010
5:42 pm

The series will turn exactly as MB puts it. Either Horford or Howard gets in foul trouble and their team loses! The two other keys are for Joe to give up his offense and defend Vince Carter as nobody else on the Hawks can seem to find him. The other is for Teague to play significant minutes in Bibby’s place as he doesn’t guard anyone and Orlando’s guards will go crazy on him. Maybe Marvin can find Carter as we may need Johnson’s scoring to offset the Magic’s. If Coach Woodson has the guts to keep Bibby on the bench we can win!