What We'll Learn in Game 1 vs. Hawks
Which team will be ready?
Everyone has written a rest versus rust article in the wake of Orlando's eight-day layoff between closing out Charlotte in Game Four last Monday and tonight's series opener against Atlanta. In their defense, the Hawks will have just two days to turn around from a seven-game series and quickly turn their attention to the Magic.
Both positions are not optimal.
Orlando players are admitting that there might be some rust heading into Game One and surely Atlanta will be in rhythm after needing to win the final two games in the team's series with Milwaukee.
So who will be ready and who will come to play in Game One?
The Hawks have had issues with playing with a consistent, strong effort for 48 minutes. They needed that to win Game Six on the road in Milwaukee, they will need that for every moment of this series with the Magic. Orlando came out of a series where their defensive antennae needed to be ready and completely smothered Charlotte's attack. Atlanta's one on one offense will run into problems unless the team moves the ball more consistently and looks to make the extra pass.
That is the kind of preparation that will be necessary. The Magic worked together very well in the first round. The Hawks had their up and downs.
But the first round was a long time ago (in basketball days). Will Orlando still be on the same page? Will the team be able to repeat the high level it was playing at a week ago?
Practices cannot simulate games. If the Magic do not come out on the same page tonight, they will have to rely on their scrappy playing ability to keep them playing with this very talented Hawks team.
What can we take from the regular season meetings?
Orlando has dominated Atlanta the last two seasons, winning six of the last eight meetings. This year the Magic flat out dominated the four-game series. They won the three games they won by an average of 22.3 points per game, including a 30-point victory. The Hawks only win came on a buzzer beating dunk by Josh Smith.
It is the loss that interests me most.
In that game, Orlando raced out to a 12-point lead and then struggled mightily offensively as Atlanta climbed back and took the lead. It then took a comeback from the Magic and a tough fadeaway from Vince Carter for the Magic to be in a position to win. Smith then made an incredible play to clinch a victory for Atlanta.
On one hand, it was a game where the Magic struggled and did not have their best game. On the other, the Hawks did a lot of good things to get the Magic out of rhythm. Mike Woodson said the game gave the team confidence that it can defeat Orlando. Josh Smith refuted that.
Where does that leave us?
Well, also consider Orlando won its three meetings by 20-plus points and Atlanta struggles to defend Dwight Howard and the 3-point shooting. Also consider, the Magic did not shoot the ball particularly well in the first round against a very good defensive team and still found ways to score and get wins.
But that was a different series. And those games were in the regular season. All signs point to a short series, but we will find out just how much previous results mattered.
Will Dwight Howard be able to stay on the floor?
Mike Woodson has not decided how he is going to defend Dwight Howard. Expect him to use Al Horford in single coverage and to double him at times. The best way to defend Howard is to mix up coverages and make him really think in the post.
Horford, though, is not capable of defending Howard one on one. And, unlike Charlotte who could burn through three big men without any effect to its offense, Horford is a key component of Atlanta's team. Horford cannot pick up fouls like Theo Ratliff could at the beginning of games.
It bodes well for Dwight Howard offensively. Defensively, having to give Horford's mid-range game some respect could be a good thing for keeping him on the floor too. He will not be roaming as much and be in position for help fouls.
Howard will certainly not repeat his first round line of 9.8 points, 9.3 rebounds and 5.5 fouls per game. Against Atlanta he averaged 21.0 points and 16.8 rebounds per game. The Hawks probably got a blueprint to attack him from the Bobcats, but Howard hopefully learned how to defend it and stay on the floor against it.