Tag:Jameer Nelson
Posted on: April 22, 2011 10:38 pm
Edited on: April 22, 2011 10:48 pm
 

Pachulia and Richardson ejected for fighting

Posted by Royce Young



We were building to this point. At some point, the Magic and Hawks were going to rumble.

Finally it happened in Game 3 with 2:22 left in the fourth quarter. Zaza Pachulia fouled Dwight Howard hard, Howard flung his arms, Jason Richardson came to defend Howard after Pachulia took exception to Howard and off we went. Pachulia was right in Richardson's face apparently yelling "What? What?" and with the motion of his head seemed to headbutt Richardson. Immediately, Richardson threw and open-handed push to the face at Pachulia.

After the officials reviewed the play, both Pachulia and Richardson were ejected with "fighting" fouls. Howard was assessed a technical because of hanging his elbow out.

Obviously the NBA will review this incident and it's likely both Pachulia and Richardson will be hit with suspensions. Will the NBA punish Howard for the elbow? Remember that he was suspended a game in the postseason in 2009 for one, which was widely criticized.

Pachulia defended Howard extremely well in the post all game long, holding the MVP candidate to just 21 points. Howard averaged 39.5 the first two games. Pachulia is notorious for getting under player's skin and he certainly has with Howard. The follow-through from Howard was pretty clearly intentional and it set Pachulia off. Howard takes a beating every night and at times, does a poor job of containing his frustration. It set off this chain of events which will likely put Richardson and Pachulia on the bench for a big Game 4.

Atlanta went on to win 88-84 after a huge Jamal Crawford 3 to take a 2-1 series lead.
Posted on: April 22, 2011 2:27 pm
Edited on: April 22, 2011 2:52 pm
 

Series Reset Hawks-Magic: The art of Smoove

The series the public forgot shifts back to Atlanta for Games 3 and 4 tied. We reset the series and wonder about J-Smoove, Horford, J.J. and more. 
Posted by Matt Moore

The Narrative: Is there something to be said for the Hawks losing Game 2 in a close one, despite playing terribly? Is there something to be said for Orlando winning despite not shooting well? Is it a good thing or a bad thing that Dwight Howard dominated in the first two games for the Magic but they were solidly beaten in one game and squeaked it out? Can Atlanta hope for their mediocre shooting to improve, or is this who they are, and Game 1 was a deviation? 

We don't really know the answers to all that at this point. Magic fans are banking on Atlanta shooting like they did in Game 2 while Orlando's offense opens up like a flower in bloom. Hawks fans are banking on the shooting returning to an even decent level while their defense continues to hold everyone not named Howard in check. It's ridiculously simple, actually. The Hawks' matchup advantages counter Orlando's star power. So it comes down to shooting. The Hawks can beat the Magic shooting a percentage over what Atlanta usually holds teams to, but can't if they continue to sit in the freezer. The Magic can regain the series advantage by shooting somewhat close to what they usually do as long as Orlando can hit water from a boat. 

It really does just come down to making shots. 

The Hook: Josh Smith can do what he wants. He really can. Brandon Bass has no shot at guarding him. Ryan Anderson has no shot at guarding him. Hedo Turkoglu did a good job for a long stretch in the second half of Game 2, but in reality, again, Smith has the advantage. The only thing that can stop Josh Smith, really, is himself. In Game 1 he took two 3-pointers. In Game 2, he took four. This isn't a big differential, except that every shot Smith takes from the perimeter is one more he's not taking inside or at the rim. Smith has taken considerable leaps to tone down his penchant for perimeter shooting, but when he drifts back into that, the Hawks lose a valuable weapon.

Here's a look at Smith's possessions in Game 1 vs. Game 2, via Synergy Sports. 

Josh Smith possessions Game 1 Game 2
Post-Up 4 3
Transition 2 2
Pick and Roll 2 2
Spot-Up 3 6
ISO 3 1


Now, Smith's probably the only Hawk you can look at and say, "Man, that guy should really go ISO one one one. The Hawks are an ISO factory. But Smith's one of the only ones with a clear advantage man-up, physically. Most concerning though, is that big glaring "6" in the Spot-Up row for Game 2. If Josh Smith is shooting spot-up jumpers, there's something wrong with the world. Or the Hawks. More specifically, the Hawks. Another few possessions for the Hawks where Smith is aggressive, and they might be coming home with a 2-0 lead. Smith has to stay aggressive or the Hawks are going back into the offensive swamp again. 

The Adjustment: Head coach Larry Drew got blasted by just about everyone for benching Al Horford for almost the entire first half after he picked up early foul trouble. Don't get me wrong, that was a terrible decision, but Horford just didn't have it in that game. He didn't shoot well, and struggled even to overcome Brandon Bass in the post. This isn't to say Drew was correct, he wasn't. But Drew has bigger issues than just Horford's minutes. He needs to get a strategy for defending Dwight Howard and stick to it. Jason Collins finished with three fouls. Zaza Pachulia finished with four. Hilton Armstrong with two. Al Horford with two. The idea of making Dwight Howard beat you by his lonesome isn't a bad strategy. It's actually a pretty good one. But it's got to be done using the line. If two of those four players don't foul out by the end of the game, Drew has coached badly. Howard's a terrible free throw shooter. If they're not going to double on him to contain him, they have to at least make him work at the weakest part of his game to beat them. 

The X-Factor: J.J. Redick hasn't shot well as he recovers from injury. That's going to change at some point. If not him, then Chris Duhon. If not either of those players, then Gilbert Arenas, should he see the floor. One of the Magic's guards has to get warm at some point, and they need to have their trigger fingers ready. The Hawks have been running off the 3-point shot well in this series and the Magic seem to have no interest in making the extra pass. If they get the ball, the guards need to shoot. 

The biggest reason the Magic need this is to counter Jamal Crawford. The Magic can't keep getting blasted by Crawford and Johnson with no significant contributions outside of Jameer Nelson and possible Jason Richardson. There's got to be some effort to balance the scale, which puts more emphasis on Howard, which is what the Magic want. 

The Sticking Point: It's a counter-intuitive mismatch of offenses. The Hawks' ISO heavy weaponry against the Magic's one-pass-and-done kick-outs. The Hawks have to keep running off the three, while the Magic have to try and stick the Hawks' weapons on the perimeter. Everyone's laughing at the lack of ball movement by Atlanta, but the thing is, they're able to get those shots off against opponents who don't have a good capability of defending them. The Magic have been frozen from the arc, comparatively, but you have to believe those shots will eventually fall. How that tug of war ends up will decide the next two games in Atlanta. 
Posted on: April 20, 2011 2:47 am
Edited on: April 20, 2011 3:15 am
 

NBA Playoffs Hawks-Magic: Game 2 Reactions

Reactions from around the web from Hawks-Magic Game 2. 
Posted by Matt Moore



In the second half, Atlanta tried everything to make up the deficit.

After sitting out for most of the first half, it was clear that Larry Drew was going to try everything in his power to get Al Horford involved offensively. Larry Drew did just that, as he immediately called for Horford to get the basketball on the low block-and-go to work against Brandon Bass. However, even though Bass got beat a few times, he put up a great stand against Horford defensively and held his ground more often than not. Horford is a strong player, no question about it, but Bass’ lower-body strength allowed him to dig in the trenches. Horford tried all that he could to overwhelm Bass, but he couldn’t do it.
via Recap: Orlando Magic 88, Atlanta Hawks 82 | Magic Basketball .

This turn of events was really significant. When the mid-range jumpers were failing in the first half, Drew turned to Horford in the block. The Magic even brought help but Horford was rightfully focused on taking Bass on offense (he should have been able to based on scouting reports) and couldn't kick start the perimeter rotation. Not that the Hawks run any sort of perimeter ball movement, but even the theoretical was thwarted. Horford has to be a huge factor in this series if Howard's not guarding or spying him weak-side. He's got  to produce as he did in Game 1, even if that means using the mid-range jumper. It was a good example of the Magic's improved defense on the night. 
Orlando's head coach used only Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu at point guard after halftime, leaving Gilbert Arenas and Chris Duhon benched. The decision forced the usually gun-shy Turkoglu to play more aggressively, and though he missed 12 of his 16 shots, he a least ran the offense well and made proper passes. The 6-foot-10 matchup nightmare dished 5 of the Magic's 9 assists, with just 1 turnover, in splitting his 39 minutes between small forward and point guard. If Gilbert Arenas, who's struggled mightily since coming to Orlando in a midseason trade with the Washington Wizards, is out of the Magic's rotation, you bet your sweet behind that's news. For what it's worth, Arenas shot 1-of-3 from the field, with 1 rebound and 1 turnover, in 6 minutes.
via Orlando Magic 88, Atlanta Hawks 83 - Orlando Pinstriped Post .
Turkoglu had a fantastic game for a guy who shot 4-16 from the field. A shortening of rotations is expected in the playoffs, but an abandonment of Arenas is pretty big. That makes Arenas a $17 million towel-waver. But you also can't blame SVG for going this route. Turkoglu has the best pick and roll chemistry with Howard. In Game 1, the Magic ran zero plays for the pick-and-roll with the ball going to the roll man. In Game 2, they ran four such plays, with three to Dwight Howard. The result? Foul drawn, layup and-one, dunk. The Magic ran those plays in the first half. They did not return to them in the second half. The Magic do run sets out of the pick and roll to the post for Howard, but with Howard's physical and athletic talents, you have to ponder at why in the name of Brian Hill the Magic don't go to that set more often. 
In Game 2, the Hawks shot much worse and had a chance to win despite Larry Drew. It was a terribly wasted opportunity but, if Drew can either commit to playing his best players until they are disqualified or not play his worst players until absolutely necessary, the Hawks, in possession of home court advantage, can still conceivably win this series. Which is rather amazing considering they were outscored over the course of the 82 game season and their head coach either didn't try his hardest or proved himself obscenely incompetent in one half of their playoff games.
via Hoopinion: Atlanta Hawks analysis. Run on pessimism and truth.: Orlando Magic 88 Atlanta Hawks 82 .

There was a lot of talk about the rotations. Collins didn't play much. Horford was sat with two fouls until the half and finished with two fouls as noted by Hoopinion. But the bigger question in my mind was why, in a series where the Hawks have such advantages in terms of the athletic personnel like Johnson, Josh Smith, and Al Horford who can play big and in space, the Hawks are slowing the ball down. The question came to me after Game 2. If you flipped coaching staffs in this series, even with Dwight Howard the best overall player in the series, wouldn't the Hawks be an overwhelming favorite? If the Hawks had any semblance of discipline and systemic value with this roster as constructed, wouldn't this look like a clear advantage for the Hawks in terms of matchups and overall ability? 

If the Hawks win this series, it's going to seem like they did so despite Larry Drew, not because of him. That's how it's played out in the first two games. 
The bigger issue was losing Al Horford. He drew two fouls in the first two minutes and Drew made the curious decision — as he has all season — to sit Horford out for the remainder of the half. When Horford got back into game in the second half, he looked out of rhythm and didn’t hit his first bucket until the fourth. The Hawks were outrebounded 52-39. Orlando had 20 offensive boards — most of those when Horford was on the bench.

“I got taken out of the game quick in the first half — I feel like that affected us,” Horford said. “They had 16 offensive rebounds in the first half. That’s something I have to be more conscious about. I was out of rhythm. It took me a while to get going. The team played well but we just missed some shots.”
via Hawks lose to Magic but prove something in process | Jeff Schultz .

Here's an interesting one. The Hawks had 13 rebounds and 15 second-chance points. The Magic had 20 offensive rebounds and 20 second-chance points. So the Hawks were actually more effective when they did get offensive rebounds than the Magic were. But the question still has to be asked. 

What are you saving Al Horford for? Horford's not a streak shooter you want available late. He's the consistent, productive, efficient player that anchors the team and can prevent them from turning into the ISO-heavy disaster they are so often on offense. Two fouls? This is the playoffs. You can't be timid with your best players' minutes. You have depth for a reason. Drew buried himself with this decision.
Orlando Magic point guard Jameer Nelson woke up with a migraine headache on Tuesday morning, causing him to sit out shootaround and putting his status into question leading up to the Magic’s playoff game against the Hawks.

He went straight home after shootaround and laid down for several hours. Nelson took some medicine before declaring himself OK to play.

Nelson even considered wearing the migraine sunglasses Miami’s Dwyane Wade wore earlier this season, but “my teammates were laughing at me,” he said.

Asked how he felt a few minutes ago, Nelson said, “sleepy.”

He should be OK moving forward, but it’s at least something to monitor.
via Jameer Nelson played through migraine vs. Hawks – Orlando Magic BasketBlog – Orlando Sentinel .

This just makes Kirk Hinrich's night that much worse. The Magic played terrific defense. The fact that their starting point guard was having such pain and they still executed says a lot. It also speaks volumes about benching Duhon and Arenas. 
 


Posted on: April 20, 2011 12:59 am
Edited on: April 20, 2011 3:06 am
 

NBA Playoffs Hawks-Magic: A return of logic

Magic tie the series up with the Hawks by locking down. It's becoming clear this will be system vs. players to the death. 
Posted by Matt Moore




We told you in the Series Reset the Magic defense would likely get back on track, but the mismatches would remain in place. And, heavens to Betsy, we got one right. The Magic held the Hawks to 40 percent shooting; just 7-20 from the arc. The Magic won the rebounding battle 52-39. They gathered 43 percent of all available offensive rebounds. They earned 36 free throws compared to just 17 for the Hawks. 

They won by just six. 

Now, the important thing here is that they won. A loss would have buried them in an 0-2 hole going back to Atlanta. Even the Hawks' terrible home-court advantage couldn't keep them from a series win in that scenario. The Magic responded with a defensive firestorm in Game 2, and that, combined with a terrible shooting night for the Hawks, was enough to lift them to victory. If the Hawks' exceedingly high shooting percentages in Game 1 were an aberration, than Game 2 was one of those painful situations where everything they put up was either brilliantly defended or just rimmed off. But if you wanted a good indication of the impact the Magic's defense had... Go big and go fast. 

Go big.  The Magic obviously dominated the glass. Dwight Howard was in rare form again. Just as he did in Game 1, Howard dominated the glass, just ripping the ball out of the Hawks' paws. But more impactful was what he did to interior drive attempts. When the Hawks looped to the basket, Howard was there. Twice Joe Johnson posted Hedo Turkoglu, spun around him and had a very makeable high-glass floater. Twice he had to adjust to get it over Howard's outstretched arms, and the result was a miss. Offensively, the Magic didn't dominate the points in the paint -- it was only a 36-32 advantage for Orlando -- but the Hawks shot themselves in the foot by shooting just 50 percent from short range. A grind-it-out, tough game, where one side has a dominant performance from the best center in the league... That's good enough for a win. 




Go fast . The Magic's transition defense gets a gold star here. They cut off passing lanes, shut off driving lanes, and scummed up any chance for the Hawks to get out in transition. Not that the Hawks' really made a concerted effort. Too often the Hawks elected to settle down. You would think Larry Drew would recognize that the Hawks' biggest advantage is in getting away from Howard on the break and using their superior athleticism. You would think he'd recognize that, but you'd be wrong. Regardless, the Magic were disciplined and relentless. The Hawks had seven fast break points the entire game on 2-6 shooting. 

The Magic's offense? Still missing. The Hawks' matchup advantages? Still there (Josh Smith 17 points, Jamal Crawford 25 points). But the Magic reasserted some of their own with Jameer Nelson edging Kirk Hinrich (who couldn't hit water if he fell out of a submarine in the middle of a deep-sea trench Tuesday night). But systemically the Magic got what they needed. The Hawks got their win in Orlando and now head back to Atlanta. 

System vs. Personnel. The battle continues. We've told you again and again. This one is going to be long and tough. And even in a loss, you have to wonder if the momentum doesn't lie with Atlanta. 
Posted on: April 19, 2011 3:05 pm
Edited on: April 19, 2011 3:38 pm
 

Series Reset: Atlanta has to keep up

The Hawks took out the Magic in every phase of the game except guarding Dwight Howard. What trends are we seeing as the series moves forward Tuesday night?
Posted by Matt Moore




The Narrative:   The Magic likely assumed they would win because they're the better team and because Atlanta has been so mediocre over the past two seasons, especially down the stretch. But somewhere in there, they overlooked the matchup advantages that Atlanta enjoys in this series. Dwight Howard is not a matchup problem, he's a fact of life. The Hawks are going to lose that battle no matter what. He's the best center in the league. Atlanta's matchup advantages come in lesser known areas. Like Josh Smith versus whatever slow, perimeter-based forward the Magic want to put on him. Or how well Kirk Hinrich matches up with Jameer Nelson (despite his 27 points, a good chunk of which were not defended by Hinrich). Orlando has to figure out a way to get the entire offense involved. They didn't in Game 1, and they sunk to the bottom of the sea even as Dwight Howard demolished everything in his path. Unless they get equal contributions from the other players, the Hawks may just resign themselves to getting dunked on while keeping the perimeter in check. 

The Hook: The Atlanta Hawks took 24 shots at the rim, or within nine feet of the rim . They took 27 shots from 16-23 feet. They were efficient down low, don't get me wrong, shooting 63 percent in that area, but they took an obscene amount of shots from mid-range. And, while they made 48 percent from that distance, that's simply not something you can count on in any basketball game. I mean, look at Al Horford's shot chart for crying out loud. 



(Click on the image for more from our GameTracker, Game 1 .)

That's just not production you can count on. Or is it? Horford shot 53 percent from the field in the regular season from 16-23 feet . If the Magic keep letting him hit from space, Horford's going to eventually force them out, which opens up passing lanes. This is a pretty big concern. That's five of their 13 makes from range right there. You have to think the Hawks will try and even out their production at some point, but they may want to take their chances with what worked in Game 1.


The Adjustment: According to Synergy Sports , you know how many pick and roll plays the Magic ran? 31. You know how many wound up in the hands of the roll man? None. Zip, zero, zilch. That makes Dwight Howard's night more impressive, but it also means a few things. One, if you go back and watch, the Hawks are closing two to three defenders on Howard or whoever the roll man is. Two, that adjustment means that the Magic, had they opted to, would have had an open shooter off the second pass on the pick, drive and kick. But instead, they just launched. Nelson comes off the screen, he kicks out, catch and shoot. Except that they were rushing all those shots. They had the opportunity to spin the ball when the Hawks started to try and recover, but instead just let it fly. The result? Brick city. 

The Magic are at their best not when they're just launching threes, but when they're actually creating stupendously open shots from their ball rotation. That's how they beat the Celtics and Cavaliers in 2009, and going away from that strategy in 2010 hurt them, as it's hurting them now. They have experienced, competent passers and shooters on the perimeter. The Magic need to slow down their decision making, not their pace, and work to create the best shot possible. Do that and their perimeter game will finally start to click. 

The X-Factor: Joe Johnson. Johnson should be the focal point of Orlando's defense, right? After all, he's their All-Star (along with Horford), and as close as it gets to a star player. Johnson went ISO 13 times in Game 1. He was 6 of 10 scoring, drew two fouls and had one turnover. The degree to which Atlanta puts Johnson in ISO tends to be a source of mockery for them, but you need someone to make tough buckets in the playoffs, and Johnson can do that when he's on. Furthermore, the Magic have nobody to guard him. Jason Richardson can't stick him, neither can J.J. Redick, Turkoglu, or the other wings. He's a nightmare, and when he's on, he can cause severe damage in a series. Just ask the Celtics. 

The Sticking Point: The Magic were knocked back defensively in Game 1. But this is one of the best defenses in the league. They were knocked back offensively. And they're one of the most dangerous offensive units. At home, down 1-0, you would expect things to get back on track. But this series has already shown a series of matchup problems for the Magic. Joe Johnson said after Game 1 that this isn't the same team they faced last year at all. And that much has become apparent, when you look at the player-versus-player breakdown. But, overall team strength has to come into play at some point, and the tug-of-war between those two elements will likely end up decidiing this series. 


Posted on: April 16, 2011 10:54 pm
Edited on: April 17, 2011 2:47 am
 

NBA Playoffs Hawks-Magic: Howard not enough

Dwight Howard has a historic performance... and it wasn't enough as the Hawks take Game 1. 
Posted by Matt Moore




In 2007, Kobe Bryant scored the following point totals in the first round of the NBA playoffs against the Phoenix Suns: 39, 15, 45, 31, 34. The Lakers lost in five. They managed to push the Suns to seven games the year before, but still fell. And the strategy was more than apparent, and is what led the Lakers to become so aggressive the following year. And, it's what nearly cost them Kobe Bryant in a trade demand before Andrew Bynum developed and Pau Gasol was delivered for $1.50 and some lint. The strategy was simple: Kobe gets his, no one else does. They essentially surrendered bucket after bucket to Mamba (before he was called that) and shut down his underwhelming, unworthy teammates. It became a standard approach in the league in guarding Bryant, until he wound up with Pau Gasol, Andre Bynum at full strength, Derek Fisher came back and Lamar Odom's head got screwed on. Then everyone was just doomed (hence the two titles).

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On Saturday night, the Atlanta Hawks employed the same strategy on Dwight Howard, and the result was eerily similar in the Hawks' 103-93 win over Orlando . Howard scored 31 in the first half, and finished with 46. He had 19 rebounds. And the Magic lost. In the first half, the Magic went to Howard consistently. In part because the Hawks were helpless to stop him. You name the defender, we can show the highlight. Jason Collins. Zaza Pachulia. Even Etan Thomas got a turn (and a vicious block from Howard). Howard hit the whole array. Alley-oops. Offensive rebound put-backs. Hook shots. Jumpers. The works. But in part, the Magic went to Howard as consistently because the rest of the team was a bunch of popsicles. It was a truly terrible offensive performance for a team that relies on its shooting. 

So when the second half came around, the Hawks went to a different approach. They started fouling Howard more aggressively. Howard finished the first half 8-9 from the line. There was literally no way to stop him. Second half? 6-13. That's seven more points he left on the board. The Magic still would have lost, but it should be noted, because that was a subtle correction the Hawks made. Let Howard do whatever he wants for 24 minutes while you focus on getting the shooters out of rhythm. Then make him earn it at the line in the second half. Throw in some frustrating physical play that led to Howard's first technical, and it was one of the most disappointing 45-point playoff performances in NBA playoff history. Disappointing for Howard, not because of him. There wasn't much more Howard could have done. We can point out the missed free throws, but Howard still hit 64% of his shots from the stripe. But to have that kind of a performance and lose? Unheard of. 

As a matter of fact, in 20 years, no player has dropped 45 points and 19 rebounds in the playoffs. Howard was the first. And he still wound up with the L.




The loss was a complicated combination of the Magic's supporting players having an outright miserable performance, Kirk Hinrich having a better-than-expected game, and Josh Smith dominating a matchup we thought he would . The Magic have to improve on offense, defense, in transition, in the half-court and in terms of composure. Dwight Howard did everything he could, the Magic have to step up in support.

Oh, and one last thing before notes. In 2009, the Magic put themselves on the NBA map by downing the Celtics and then the best team in the East that season, the Cleveland Cavaliers. They did so by letting LeBron James go off for whatever he wanted, and shutting down all the rest of the Cavaliers. The Magic got a strong dose of that in Game 1 vs. the Hawks. 

A few other notes: 

  • Kirk Hinrich finished with a quiet 13 points on 6-10 shooting, 5 rebounds and 3 assists. But his impact was so much bigger. Even with Jameer Nelson going off for 20 points in the third quarter, Hinrich played excellent defense, knocked down shots, and prevented Nelson from dominating the matchup like he did against the Hawks in 2010. 
  • Jamal Crawford was 4-7 from the arc, including a dagger at the end of the game with 18 seconds left on the shot clock. 
  • Jason Richardson: 4 points on 2-8 shooting, 0-4 from the arc. The word there is: curtains. 
  • The Magic can survive Josh Smith abusing its forwards. They can handle Al Horford dismantling their forwards from range. They can't handle both. 

Posted on: April 14, 2011 5:11 pm
Edited on: April 15, 2011 12:59 am
 

Series Preview Hawks-Magic: Birds of pray

Our first-round series previews continue with Hawks-Magic. Will Josh Smith be the X-factor for Atlanta? 
Posted by Matt Moore




I. Intro

The forgotten series. The Magic and Hawks face off in the 4-5 matchup, traditionally nothing more than an also-ran series. It's usually one of the most competitive, but it's also usually the least sexy because of the lack of elite teams involved. That archetype certainly fits here. The Magic's window seems to have shut once and for all as the trade for Jason Richardson and Gilbert Arenas along with Hedo Turkoglu has failed to return the Magic to a 2009 level of perimeter lethality. Dwight Howard's put in an MVP-worthy season, even if he won't win, but still fails to make an impact that drives the word "unstoppable." 

The Hawks? The Hawks are the quietest successful disaster story, ever. They gave Joe Johnson a max contract no one thought he was worth, then extended Al Horfor which everyone thought should happen. They upgraded at point trading Mike Bibby for Kirk Hinrich, and won enough games to land in the five spot after an early season run through an easy schedule. But whenever faced with a key moment, the Hawks have been ran over and through. Except against the Magic. 

II. What happeneed: A Look at the Season Series

The Hawks topped the Magic 3-1 in the regular season. The Magic are heavy favorites based on Howard and playoff experience, but the Hawks have been in the playoffs the last three seasons prior this year's, and have made the second round twice. They are an afterthought in the playoff race. But that doesn't mean they're push overs, especially against Orlando. 

The Magic's only victory over the Hawks came when Dwight Howard dropped 27 points and 11 rebounds. Howard averaged less than 20 points per game against the Hawks this season, largely due to foul trouble. Al Horford is the most underrated All-Star in the league, a terrific defensive presence that can manage Howard as well as work with an effective double-team. Jameer Nelson averaged 19 per game against the Hawks, but bigger was Josh Smith who averaged 18 points, 11 rebounds and over 2 blocks per game against the Magic. 

III. The Easy Stuff: Josh Smith is going to destroy everyone

Ryan Anderson and Brandon Bass split time for the Magic at power forward, with the occasional appearance from Hedo Turkoglu. None of those three players have the skillset necessary to handle Smith, which is why he put up such strong numbers against the Magic. Bass isn't fast enough to handle Smith's explosion, Anderson doesn't possess the strength to match him in the post, and Turkoglu doesn't have either of those traits. Smith's going to be able to slice through defenders like they were made of Sriracha.

Smith doesn't take up a ton of shots, he works for easy ones and has tailed off on ill-advised jumpers in his career. He's never going to be the dominant force many hoped he would become, but he can make a huge impact. The question here will be if he can make a significant impact across a seven a game series on the glass and helping defend Howard. Smith works so much from the perimeter and swoops in on rebounds. But Howard takes up so much space, that strategy can suffer at times. Smith needs to be a focal point on both sides of the floor for the Hawks to win this series. 

IV. Secret of the Series: The Maginot 3-point Line

Did you know that the Hawks allow the fifth fewest 3-pointers made? And that they allow the fourth worst percentage from the arc? The Hawks have long, versatile wing defenders and close out hard on 3-pointers. That's going to put a huge crimp on the Magic's style. The Magic need to get their offensive flow going, and that meanes 3-pointers. But if the Hawks stay home and force the Magic to beat them with perimeter penetration off the dribble, the Hawks may have a shot at this thing. Kirk Hinrich is a significant enough upgrade over Jameer Nelson that he'll succeed where Bibby failed last season. From there it's up to Smith and Marvin Williams to close out, along with Joe Johnson. Smith once again comes in handy here against Ryan Anderson. Smith's athleticism will allow him to help defend inside on doubles and recover on Andreson effectively. It's all about spacing, and the Hawks have the length to cause problems in that area. 

For the Magic, they need to get the advantage off their bench with their shooters. Jason Richardson will get his fair share, but the rest have to step up, including J.J. Redick and Gilbert Arenas. If Arenas continues his poor play, the Magic are going to find long runs during the bench unit minutes. The Hawks are a paper tiger but they've still got claws. 

V. The Dinosaur Narrative: The Magic Rebound myth

Having the best rebounder in the playoffs doesn't assure you the best rebounding. The Magic are thought to have the edge on the glass in this series thanks to the existence of Howard along with Bass and Anderson. But the Hawks outrebounded them by 5 on averge in the season series. They tied the Magic on the offensive glass 9.3 to 9.8. Those second-hand opportunities are thanks (again) to Smith's athleticism, Horford's savvy know-how and effort, and Joe Johnson's size advantage over smaller, thinner guards. It's a fundamental part of the Magic's approach, and the Hawks are able to neutralize it. Just because Howard's massive doesn't mean the Magic have an advantage on the glass. 

VI. The Line-Item Veto: 

PG: Kirk Hinrich is still a very good defender but his reputation has suffered a bit over the last few years. Nelson is as inconsistent as they come, but he usually excels until he hits a wall, then plummets in production. Expect him to have another big series. 

SG: Joe Johnson's numbers have fallen across the board in the first year of his zillion year, zillion dollar contract. He and Jason Richardson are likely to play to a tie. The big question will in terms of usage and how many possessions Johnson racks up. 

SF: The Hawks have been using lineups with Horford at 4, moving Smith to the 3 spot. But Marvin Williams still gets the most time at the 3. He and Turkoglu are essentially a wash, with Turkoglu's play making ability giving him a slight edge, if only for his entry passing with Dwight Howard. 

PF: We've been over this. Smith, Horford, whoever is here is better than anyone Orlando's got, and Orlando's got a few good players here. 

C: Uh, yeah, I'll go with the big guy in blue, thanks. 

Bench: The Magic peel Gilbert Arenas off, along with either Anderson or Bass. J.J. Redick is banged up but very good when healthy. Chris Duhon has a pulse. . The Hawks have Zaza Pachulia, Collins at times, Jeff Teague, and, oh, yeah, Jamal Crawford. Hawks get the edge. 

Coaching: Larry Drew has not impressed in his first season. Stan Van Gundy is arguably a top three coach in the league. Gotta go with SVG. 

VII. Conclusion

This series will actually be pretty interesting.  All the matchups point towards the Hawks being able to make a run and knock off the Magic. But we've seen this kind of situation with the Celtics versus the Heat last year. You have to trust the tested playoff team that's won before. Factor in the chance that Nelson steps up and Howard's ability to take over a game every now and the Magic are still the favorites, if for no other reason than their defense. Prediction: Magic in 6. 

VIII. CBSSports.com Video Preview

Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic will take on Joe Johnson and the Atlanta Hawks in round 1 of the NBA Playoffs. Who will come out on top? Ken Berger joins Ian Eagle for an in-depth look at this fierce matchup.

Posted on: April 12, 2011 4:12 pm
Edited on: April 12, 2011 6:25 pm
 

Road to the Finals: Orlando Magic

The Magic's window seems closed. What do they have to do to pry it back open?
Posted by Matt Moore




It's been a season of dramatics in the NBA. The Lakers aspiring for a second three-peat under Phil Jackson to send him off in style. The Celtics trying to make one more run to the championship to get the elusive multiple titles while dealing with a reformation of the core after a trade of Kendrick Perkins. The Heat. Just, the Heat. The Bulls' rise behind Derrick Rose and Tom Thibodeau. The Spurs making one last great charge with their core. 

But lost in all this is Orlando. 

Set with a backdrop of fantasy (it's Disney World for crying out loud - how much more symbolic do you want to get?), this season has become a crushing work of disillusionment illustrating the crash of reality on a franchise that was a Courtney-Lee-blown alley-oop from really putting the boots back to the Lakers in the Finals two years ago. The Magic aren't just a team that thought it had the championship window firmly propped open for years. They are an illustration of the have-not nature in the NBA, despite their making what can only be considered the best effort possible. 

Orlando poneyed up for the new arena critics of small-markets allege the non-top cities never approve. Ownership elected to go above and beyond the cap, deep into the luxury tax. They were smart enough to draft, and develop, a franchise player, acquire a competitive and arguably brilliant head coach, surround the team with competent role players. When the 2009 team failed to get past the last challenge, management did not get complacent, and instead opted for the home-run move you're supposed to make, according to many. Vince Carter, for all his Vince-Carter-ness, was still a legit star in the summer of 2009. They went for the big move. When that didn't work out, they once again swung for the fences. You can't say Otis Smith didn't try. 

But here they are. Entering the playoffs as the worst seed they've been since 2008, with little to no momentum, and considered nothing more than after-thought in the playoffs. They are a speedbump in the road to the Finals for teams from Miami, Chicago, Boston. They gambled. They lost. And the worst part of all is this season may turn out to be the one that gives Dwight Howard an excuse to leave Orlando; it may be the one reflected on as what turns Howard away; it may be the year Orlando lost their franchise center, again. 

And then, very dimly, way in the back there, behind the headlines about "DWIGHT TO NY 2012" and "HOWARD THINKS L.A. WEATHER IS AWESOME, COULD HEAD THERE IN 2012?" is this simple formula. The Magic have an elite defense, an array of shooter who have yet to really show how good they can be if they do start clicking, a solid-to-good point guard, and have we mentioned their defense is pretty awesome? In 2009, I talked myself into picking Orlando against both Boston and Cleveland based on their ability to trample any team if they get hot. Offense never wins a championship, but great shooting and elite defense does. And Orlando still has that, at its systemic level. 

Road To The Finals
" target="_blank">Miami Heat The problem is when you get beyond the system. The idea isn't wrong. Stan Van Gundy's structure of building shooters with a driver mixed in to swarm around Howard, create specing, force the double, kick, kick, and find the open shot is a sound one. Play great defense around the best defensive player, create and knock down open threes around the biggest, baddest center in the land. Win. That works. What doesn't work are the elements wrapped around Howard specifically. Hedo Turkoglu, who had a nice start to his time in Orlando but in reality doesn't have the first-step necessary to get the edge on penetration. Brandon Bass, who doesn't have the sheer muscle to fill Howard's role when the big guy sits or gets in foul trouble. Gilbert Arenas.

Oh, Gilbert. 

Arenas is the big missing piece. As in, where he stands, there's an empty shell of a guard that can't shoot, drive, or create. The Magic wasted a huge contract in Rashard Lewis to get Arenas. Lewis wasn't of considerable usefulness at this point, but he was more useful than Arenas has been. 

But then, is there anyone in the league more unpreditable than Gilbert Arenas?

A first-round series against the Hawks shouldn't be too much trouble, but there are pitfalls hidden there. The Magic don't have a forward to match Josh Smith's explosiveness. Al Horford does surprisgingly well against centers bigger than him. He'll lose to Howard, but if he can even hold his own, the onus shifts elsewhere. Kirk Hinrich is a stellar perimeter defender, if a bit overrated at this point, but Nelson has shown to step up in the playoffs against less athletic point guards (prior to being detonated against Rajon Rondo, of course). Jason Richardson should have a huge impact. 

That's where it gets tough. The Bulls are a hard team for anyone to beat, and while the Magic pushing the Bulls to the wire without Howard last weekend has to give them a measure of confidence, trying to stop Rose is going to be a challenge that Dwight Howard can only do so much against. Joakim Noah, Kurt Thomas, Omer Asik, Taj Gibson, the Bulls have fouls upon fouls to throw at Howard. That's what makes Howard such a big x-factor. He's reliable for 20-12. If he could get to that next level? If he could hit his free throws, land a few and-ones on a fadeaway, take over games on both ends like he does on defense? The Magic become an entirely different creature. But that's the issue. Howard hasn't shown that ability on any consistent basis. He'll have one, maybe two games that are out of this world. The question is if they'll come at a time when it makes a difference. 

Dwight Howard won't win the MVP because everyone questions his ability to take over a game, even though no one has an equal impact on the floor consistently minute-per-minute on both ends of the floor. And voters are probably correct in that assessment. Maybe that's the most bizarre twist in all this. The failures of the Magic may provide an out for Howard to leave in pursuit of a championship, and he's capable of being the very thing that pushes Orlando to a championship. 

The Magic aren't out of this. If they get hot from the perimeter, they're incredibly difficult to stop. Jason Richardson steps up in huge ways in the playoffs. They have weapons, they have defense, they have strategy. 

But the narrative still holds. The confidence is gone. It wouldn't take a miracle for the Magic to reach the Finals. 

But it would definitely seem like it.
 
 
 
 
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