The time is finally here. We will soon know if this Orlando Magic team that was rebuilt after only a quarter of the season had passed is good enough. Or at least as good as General Manager Otis Smith thought they could be. Orlando finished the season 4th in the Eastern Conference with a record of 52-30 and are set to face the Atlanta Hawks in the playoffs for the 2nd consecutive year. Atlanta took the season series from Orlando 3-1 and won the last three games played by these two perennial playoff teams. Each game no matter who won had final scores well below both teams’ averages on the year.
Atlanta Hawks vs. Orlando Magic Season Series
|November 8, 2010||Magic 93 – Hawks 89|
|December 6, 2010||Hawks 80 – Magic 74|
|December 20, 2010||Hawks 91 – Magic 81|
|March 30, 2011||Hawks 85 – Magic 82|
Despite losing their last 6 regular season games the Atlanta Hawks think they have figured out how to beat the Magic and expect to pull off an upset in the first round. They even have a little intro on their homepage with the phrase “It’s Payback Time” but they couldn’t exactly advertise thinking they were going to lose I suppose. Payback time? Not so fast Atlanta. This is a series that the Magic have traditionally dominated and the paying back will be coming from Orlando. The Hawks feel that deploying “Twin” Jason Collins out to guard Dwight Howard with single coverage is the answer to all of their Orlando problems. Stay home on the shooters and let Howard get whatever he gets against Collins. While this is the right formula to beat Orlando usually, the Hawks will be hard pressed to succeed if the Magic use any type of pick and roll involving Howard. MVP candidate Dwight Howard averaged 19.2pts, 14.2rebs, but just 43% shooting against Atlanta this year. Needless to say the Magic expect his shooting to be closer to the 59% he averaged throughout the season which was 2nd best in the league. Atlanta’s success this year came with Howard planted in the post with very little movement around him. Get Collins moving, stumbling is more like it, and he will be forced into foul trouble as he tries to get back to a mobile Howard or defend a quicker guard off the picks.
Orlando’s keys to victory are always the same and they are no different going into the playoffs against Atlanta. Consistent scoring must come from somebody other than Howard. Hedo Turkgolu, Jason Richardson, and Jameer Nelson are very capable offensive players and they will need to be consistently so in this series and beyond. The Magic can’t expect to average 82.5 ppg like they did in the regular season against the Hawks and expect to win. Ball movement will be key.
Like most teams in the league Orlando is at their best when they defend. Atlanta’s offense lacks imagination which should play into the hands of Orlando if they rotate and play good help defense. The only clear advantage Atlanta has is Al Horford against Brandon Bass. Fortunately the Hawks often forget about Horford leaving Joe Johnson to heave shots wildly as the shot clock winds down.
Finally the Magic bench must contribute something. Ryan Anderson has become the clear leader off the bench but JJ Redick should help bolster the 2nd unit upon his return. At this point anything the Magic get from “The Cooler” Gilbert Arenas is a bonus. Arenas is not short on confidence and could win a game or two for the Magic in the playoffs, similar to the way Nate Robinson did for Boston last season.
Orlando should dispense of the Hawks in 5 games. Six if they can’t get consistent scoring outside of Howard. Despite another 50 win season and playing a team they have traditionally dominated the Magic’s title aspirations continue to be questioned. Dwight Howard told Hoopsworld.com that he likes being the underdog. “I like people not talking about us because, on one end, it keeps everybody on their heels and makes us really have to work to prove ourselves. If we were always being talked about and always in the limelight, some guys get complacent and we’ve got to stay humble if we want to be successful” said Howard in a recent interview. “We have to focus on trying to win a championship, we’ve got the right team. We’ve got the right amount of talent to win. It’s just going to be on us to go out and play hard.” Howard later added. He clearly believes in Magic? Do you? The playoffs open Saturday at 7pm.
About the Author
Written by Warren Shaw
I am an avid Basketball fan who has worked for the New York Knicks, Alonzo Mourning Charities and various other sports organizations. Having covered many NBA and various professional sporting events has given me the opportunity to provide insight with an unbiased but flavor driven view. I look forward to providing NBA content and interacting with knowledgeable fans and readers. Follow me on Twitter @shawsports or Email your questions to me at Warrenshaw@prosportsblogging.com