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#4 Orlando Magic (52-30) vs #5 Atlanta Hawks (44-38)
Season Series: Hawks 3-1, Orlando Magic 93 vs Atlanta Hawks 89, Atlanta Hawks 80 @ Orlando Magic 74, Atlanta Hawks 91 vs Orlando Magic 81, Atlanta Hawks 85 vs Orlando Magic 82
Relevant Statistics: Orlando: 93.3 possessions per game (19th), 105.5 points scored per 100 possessions (12th), 98.9 points allowed per 100 possessions (3rd). New York: 91.8 possessions per game (27th), 103.2 points scored per 100 possessions (20th), 104.6 points allowed per 100 possessions (15th).
Hit the jump to see the individual match-ups for the Magic and the Hawks…
Point Guard: Jameer Nelson vs Kirk Hinrich
Nelson was the key to Orlando’s domination last year against the Hawks, averaging 17 points and six assists per game against Atlanta during the Magic’s four game sweep. Nelson has had a good year for the Magic, knocking down 40% of his three-points while scoring a good 12.6 points per game and his chemistry with Dwight Howard continues to impress. For the Magic to beat a Hawks team that seemingly has their number, look for Nelson to play a big role.
Hinrich is one of the better perimeter defenders in the league for players under six-foot-four which is the primary reason the Hawks decided to ditch a long range sniper in Mike Bibby. Bibby could no longer stay in front of his man on the perimeter and the Hawks needed to make a change in order to get a better performance out of their team defense. Not only has Atlanta gotten that defense from Hinrich but they’ve also goten 42% shooting from the three-point arc.
Hinrich stands a much better chance at slowing down Jameer Nelson, especially when the Magic go to the 1/5 pick and roll but Nelson stills has the upper hand in this match-up.
Shooting Guard: Jason Richardson vs Joe Johnson
Richardson has been a pretty good fit for the three happy Magic. His ability to knockdown the outside shot is far better than that of Vince Carter and Richardson has been one of Orlando’s best shooters in the clutch as well. Though Richardson shot below40% during his time with the Magic in the regular season, he’s still a deadly threat from deep that the Hawks will have to do their best contain from the outside. Defensively, Richardson will have a tough task checking the Hawks perimeter player but he’s put in some good work against top notch players in the post-season before.
Joe Johnson has had a disappointing season after getting that humongous contract from the Hawks during the off-season. Johnson’s numbers have dipped across the board. He averaged fewer than 20 points per game for the first time since he joined the Hawks back in 2005 and his shooing percentage from beyond the arc fell to 30% this season. You’d think there might be a silver lining for the Hawks with Johnson struggling but Johnson has maintained the same exact usage rate that he had last season, which means he still used up a ton of possessions this season despite playing well below star level.
Last year, Johnson would get the edge here, but with Richardson in Orlando and Johnson struggling, there’s no cear winner here.
Small Forward: Hedo Turkoglu vs Marvin Williams
Turkoglu has fit right back into his role from 2009 rather seamlessly since being dealt to Orlando from Phoenix. He’s back to being a playmaker for the Magic, a component that Orlando missed last season, and he’s even making his three-point shots at a 40% rate. Turkoglu may not have the same scoring tasks as he did back in 2009 but he’s still a good passer and a consistent outside shooter that knows how the Magic play better than any other small forward Orlando employs.
Marvin Williams may end up on the bench for the majority of this season and Josh Smith may slide up and start at this spot but I’ll list Williams as the starter here. Williams made some slight improvements to his three-point shot during the regular season but he still lacks an aggressive mindset that would suit his athletic abilities.
Power Forward: Brandon Bass vs Josh Smith
Bass has turned into a pretty nice player for the Magic this season. He’s knocking down mid-range jumpshots with above average consistency, he’s posted a career high true shooting percentage and he’s starting to get more acclimated to Stan Van Gundy’s Defense. If Bass is asked to check Josh Smith, he’ll likely have some trouble sticking with the perimeter oriented Smith but if he is put on Al Horford, there’s a better chance of Bass playing some solid defense.
Smithhas refined his jumpshot this season and h wound up shooting a career high 33% from three and 39% from 16-23 feet. I still question why a player as athletic as Smith would ever confine himself to the outside rather than playing closer to the rim but if he makes his shots at an average rate he probably isn’t killing your team. Still, if he wants to take advantage of is mismatch against someone like Bass or Turkoglu, he’s going to need to be aggressive by going to the hoop.
Center: Dwight Howard vs Al Horford
Dwight is about to capture his third straight defensive player of the year award and he should probably be taking home his first MVP, too, though Derrick Rose is the likely winner of that award. Howard has added so many post moves to his arsenal that he should even be considered for the Most Improved Player award, too. Howard finished the season averaging a career high 23 points and 14 rebounds for the Magic, while playing his patented defense.
We know that the Hawks will be using Jason Collins on Howard more often than not but Horford should get the start at center if the Hawks go with their traditional starting five before switching things up during the game. Horford is one of the game’s most under appreciated players and his offense exploits will cause problems for the Magic no matter who is one him. Expect Horford to have a pretty bad series against the Magic last season.
Gilbert Arenas - If Arenas doesn’t improve his level of play, I have a lot of doubts in Orlando’s ability to win this series. Orlando needs a perimeter player to make a difference off the bench and Arenas has that ability. Whether or not he comes through is a different story.
J.J. Redick- Redick is a great shooter and an overlooked playmaker but he’s coming off on an injury that may hamper his play in the post-season.
Quentin Richardson- Richardson has had trouble maintaining his spot in Orlando’s rotation all season long but if he can contribute a few minutes of tough defense I’m sure he’ll be able to make some kind of impact.
Ryan Anderson- Anderson has taken on the role of Rashard Lewis since Lewis was dealt to Washington and he’s done quite the job. Anderson has shot 39% from three-point range this season and his ability to stretch the floor has added an essential dimension to the Magic bench.
Earl Clark – Clark has some great flashes this season but overall he hasn’t done enough to earn consistent burn in the playoffs.
Jeff Teague- Teague has improved a good bit since his rookie campaign but he still has some work to do when it comes to refining his scoring instincts and methods.
Jamal Crawford – Crawford has had a poor follow-up season to his Sixth Man of the Year campaign. His three-point accuracy has dropped to 34% and his assist to turnover ratio of 3:2 is concerning. He’s still a good offensive player but his shot has been off for a good part of the season.
Josh Powell – Powell is a decent big man but his skills are limited and he shouldn’t play much in this series if at all.
Jason Collins - Collins’ ability to defend or pester Dwight Howard will be the key to the series for the Hawks. If he can space out his fouls, get into Dwight’s head and egg him on to commit a technical foul or two, Dwight will get frustrated and may check out of the series at some point. We’ll see how that match-up plays out.
Zaza Pachulia - Pachulia is a pester defensively as well and his size and tendency to commit hard fouls may also get on Dwight’s nerves.
There is a reason that the Hawks took three of their four regular season match-ups against the Magic: they have the perfect group of players to frustrate Dwight Howard on both ends of the floor. They have guards and forwards that can attack the rim and draw fouls and they have a trio of centers that are all capable of making things hard on Dwight in the low block.
Despite Howard’s MVP level season, if the Magic don’t get a scoring punch out of Gilbert Arenas during the playoffs, I think the Hawks will be able to take down the Magic four more times this season.
Prediction: Hawks in 7