Hawks Preview with Peachtree Hoops

Atlanta became one of the surprise teams in the Eastern Conference by racing out of the gates and into the lead of the Southeast Division early in the season and then by hanging tough with Orlando for the division title and leapfrogging Boston for the third seed in the conference. It seems the young (maybe not so much anymore) and athletic Hawks have put everything together, featuring a lineup with All Stars Joe Johnson and Al Horford and should-have-been All Star Josh Smith along with great role players like Mike Bibby, Jamal Crawford, Marvin Williams and Zaza Pachulia. Atlanta is a much better team than the one that pushed eventual champion Boston to seven games in the first round two years ago and the one that Cleveland swept last year. Still, the Hawks are not a perfect team. As Game Five in the first round against Milwaukee proved, Atlanta still suffers from a lack of ball movement on offense and a lack of focus on defense. But as Game Six and Game Seven proved, when the Hawks are on their game, they are very difficult to beat with all the weapons they have and their never-give-up on an offensive rebound attitude. Despite Orlando’s relatively easy 3-1 season series victory over Atlanta this season, Atlanta will not be an easy out. I spoke with Jason Walker of the Hawks blog Peachtree Hoops to get a picture of who these Hawks are and what we can expect this series. The obvious questions has to come first. Atlanta is a good team, but really struggled against Orlando. The Magic won their three games by an average of 22.3 points per game and of course lost on Josh Smith’s buzzer-beating dunk in the final meeting of the season. What gives Atlanta so much problems with Orlando and how do they go about adjusting to that in this series? “Well, for one really big thing, Dwight Howard causes problems for us. Then, once we have that somewhat under control, we have to run out and close out on the Magic’s myriad perimeter shooters. Oh, and then we have to crack the code on your defense. Watching the boys conduct successful brain surgery might be more likely. Why? Because, as has been seen in Round One, the Hawks have a tendency to relax in any situation, and the key to winning will be for them to commit to playing at their best for (48) minutes a game.” The Game Five collapse against Milwaukee was enough to make any team lose its confidence. The Magic had the same thing happen to them after they blew a late lead in Boston in last year’s second round and they needed to rally to win Game Six and Game Seven of that series. What did fans learn about this Atlanta team from the wins in Game Six and Seven and how will that comeback help the Hawks in this series? “I believe the Game Five thing to be overblown. This team lost in heartbreaking ways all season long, especially in the fourth quarter. They bounced back then so I wasn’t surprised they were able to re-assert themselves as the dominant team in the last two games. “I don’t know if they learned anything from Round One other than their travel plans for the next two weeks. They are who they are and, while I would like to believe that they have turned some kind of mental corner that will now possess them to empty the tanks every night, they have spent almost (90) games showing me different.” rlando is coming out of a very tough defensive series and had one of the top defensive teams in the league this year. One criticism of Atlanta is that the team relies too much on one-on-one basketball. What can the Hawks do to successfully break down the Magic’s defense? “Sounds trite, but it will come down to how well they shoot from the outside. The Magic are going to push the Hawks outside the paint with their considerable size advantage, so all the Hawks are going to have to make shots to open up some lanes to the hoop. Especially prominent could be Al Horford, who could succeed in pulling Howard outside a bit more or make him pay by knocking down that mid-range jumper he has boasted this season.” Dwight Howard’s foul struggles against Charlotte were very evident. What can the Hawks do (or try to do) to see him repeat his lackluster performance in this series? “Overplay. Double-team, you name it. The Hawks need to push the game outside, where the percentages are less in favor of Orlando. If Horford can succeed in pulling him outside a bit more, it may get him out of position enough to get into more foul trouble. Of course, we can always try to get Zaza Pachulia to bait him into a fight as well.” Who do you see as Atlanta’s X-factor that could quietly give Orlando problems in this series? “The X-Factors took a snooze in Round One—beyond Jamal Crawford the Hawks had no reliable minutes from their bench in the series. You could make a case for Mike Bibby because folks forget how lethal he can be in any given game, but really how the Hawks shoot and their front court (Josh Smith and Horford) plays raises or sinks this team in this series.” Finally, what is your prediction? “My heart wants to say that given the talent the team has we can go all the way. My mind says I’ve seen these teams play four times this year, and we’ve managed a single win by a single point while getting throttled in the other three games (plus a hotly contested exhibition just before the opener). Scale that to a Best of Seven series and you get a Magic victory in Five, with the Hawks pulling one out at home in Game Three, giving us hope we can make it a series before Orlando dashes it in Game Four.”

Philip Rossman-Reich

About Philip Rossman-Reich

Philip Rossman-Reich is the managing editor for Crossover Chronicles and Orlando Magic Daily. You can follow him on twitter @OMagicDaily