Dwight Howard is ready to do battle in the postseason once again with former AAU teammate Josh Smith and the Hawks. Photo via Getty Images/Daylife
As Dwight Howard said during last night’s win over Indiana: now the real season begins.
Throw out the regular season records, everyone is 0-0 and the first to 16 wins. The math is that simple now.
Atlanta, Orlando’s first round opponent, likely does not want to hear that, seeing as Atlanta defeated Orlando in three of the four meeting this season. Still, this is a very different Hawks team than the one the Magic faced (and swept) last year’s Eastern Conference Semifinals matchup. And this is a very different Magic team than the one that reached the Eastern Conference Finals in 2009 and 2010.
With that in mind, this 4/5 matchup that everyone seems to be overlooking (including Orlando fans) is likely one that has at least some intrigue. Frankly, the Magic probably consider themselves in a different league than the Hawks.
So to learn more about what to expect in this series I sent a line over to Deborah Horton over at Hawks Highlights. Deborah took the time to answer a few questions to help preview the series. Hopefully we will be able to get back to her for a Hawks perspective as the series moves on.
You can go read my answers about the Magic over at Hawks Highlights.
1. Last season’s playoff series (sorry, had to bring it up) was a complete disaster for Atlanta against Orlando. However this year, the Hawks took three of the four meetings and did a good job controlling the Magic’s 3-point shooting. With the pressure squarely on in the Playoffs, what must the Hawks do to make sure the results from this season occur and not the one from last?
The Hawks have to play the Magic as they have during the regular season. They switched lineups around, got Howard into foul trouble and kept the Magic from running their game effectively. They must do the same to have success in the playoffs. Given the Hawks lack of a true big man, it is always hard for them to compete too far into the playoffs, but if they play the Magic the way they did in the regular season, they have a chance to get through.
2. Many Magic fans — and arguably Jameer Nelson — are already looking past the Hawks or dismissing this first round series as already decided. What about Atlanta should worry Orlando fans and could be key to Atlanta scoring the upset?
Many are seeing the results of last year, the lack of changes in the Hawks team makeup, and the fact that the Hawks are one of the more inconsistent teams in terms of wins and losses and assuming that it will be a repeat of last year. Of course they could be right. The Hawks are a team that I have not been able to figure out all year. Win when they shouldn’t, lose when they shouldn’t. Inconsistency is the Hawks middle name. But to dismiss them out of hand would be a mistake since they have beaten the Magic three times this season. It shows that they can get it done.
3. Jameer Nelson went nuts in the first two rounds of the Playoffs against Raymond Felton and Mike Bibby. Bibby is obviously gone and Kirk Hinrich is a major defensive upgrade. How do you see the Nelson vs. Hinrich matchup shaking out? Could it be as determinative as the Nelson/Bibby matchup was last year?
I have yet to see Hinrich as a defensive upgrade that people think he is. He can be, but he rarely has been. Now, he has had some good scoring games and he was able to be effective with the screen against Orlando in the last matchup of the season. But in that game he had one steal and one blocked shot and five points. It remains to be seen how things shake out with Nelson/Hinrich in the playoffs.
4. Larry Drew came into the season saying he was going to change Atlanta’s offense, but the team’s offense has regressed this year. I have even heard rumors Drew and Josh Smith have not gotten along and Drew might even be on the hot seat. Entering his first postseason, how do you think Drew will fare in gameplanning and adjusting to the Magic?
Atlanta’s offense has changed almost not at all. They once again did not go out and get a big man. They have played about 100 different lineup combinations. Drew is like a lineup junkie on crack. Any given night you don’t know what he’s going to go with. Some have had success but plenty have not. Is it chemistry? Is it lack of meshing parts? Is it lack of talent? Is Drew just crazy? I just don’t know. He has handled the lineup fairly well against the Magic during the regular season. The playoffs are different as we all know. If the Hawks get past the first round, Drew will be hailed as a genius. If they don’t, he will be bulletin board target practice.
5. What is your prediction for the series? Who ya got?
I want to pick the Hawks based on the regular season performance against the Magic. But I know the Hawks all too well, and I have no idea which team will show up to play. I’m not sure I can make a pick. It could go either way. Hoping for a close, well-played series and hoping against the Hawk’s laying down.
Many thanks to Deborah for taking the time and check out her coverage of the series at Hawks Highlights.
Addition photo via AP/Daylife.