Series and game odds taken from Sportsbook.
Game 1 – Sat April 16, Atlanta at Orlando, 7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN
Game 2 – Tue April 19, Atlanta at Orlando, 7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV
Game 3 – Fri April 22, Orlando at Atlanta, 8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN2/ESPN3D
Game 4 – Sun April 24, Orlando at Atlanta, 7:00 p.m. ET, TNT
Game 5 * Tue April 26, Atlanta at Orlando, TBD, TBD
Game 6 * Thu April 28, Orlando at Atlanta, TBD, TBD
Game 7 * Sat April 30, Atlanta at Orlando, TBD, TNT
Orlando Series Odds: -600
Atlanta Series Odds: +400
Game 1 Line: Orlando -8.5
Game 1 Moneyline: ORL -450, ATL +350
Game 1 Total: 179.5
The Magic are the 4th seed in the East and face the 5th seeded Hawks in a rematch of last year’s Eastern Semifinals.
The Magic absolutely dominated the Hawks last season and swept them clean in the playoffs, winning the 4 games by an average of 25.25 points per game. Game One was a 43 point win for the Magic. Dwight Howard averaged 21 points per game. A lot has changed since then in the makeup of the Magic. Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis are no longer in the starting lineup and the only constants over the past two seasons as starters are the two franchise cornerstones Jameer Nelson and Dwight Howard.
The Hawks have had a makeover, too. Against the bigger teams in the league they now start Jason Collins at center and move Al Horford to power forward, shifting the 6’10” Josh Smith to small forward. The lineup adds a lot of size to the frontline and will move Horford off of Dwight Howard, a player with which Horford’s defense has experienced little success. The Hawks also replaced Mike Bibby with the much better defensively minded Kirk Hinrich.
Kirk Hinrich & Jeff Teague vs. Jameer Nelson & Gilbert Arenas
Hinrich hasn’t brought more offense than Bibby to the lineup, but he has brought both size and defense to a Hawks team that was continually getting beat up on by the teams with bigger point guards. The Magic are not one of those teams, but the size will suit them when Arenas comes in the game. Had Arenas faced Bibby, he would have been in pure attack mode (not that his full attack mode is anywhere near the old “Agent Zero” days). Hinrich is shooting 43% from distance since joining the Hawks, compared to his career average of 38.1%. It’s hard to account for why; either he likes Philips Arena or it is just an anomaly. The Magic have the better scorers here and ball distributors and Jeff Teague only plays 13 minutes a game, among the least minutes for all reserve point guards in the league. Both when Jameer is in, and when Arenas is in, the Magic should be able to score a lot from this position.
Joe Johnson & Jamal Crawford vs. Jason Richardson & J.J. Redick
This matchup at shooting guard should be a good one. Granted, Joe Johnson is superior to Jason Richardson and Crawford is probably as well, Richardson and Redick should be decent defenders on the duo. Richardson is effective against the less quick shooting guards, of which Johnson is one. Joe Johnson also relies a lot on abusing smaller defenders, but Richardson matches up with him inch per inch. The real problem for the Magic isn’t really Johnson, though; he struggled badly last year against Vince Carter; the real problem is that when Jamal Crawford comes in the game that the Hawks gain a player capable of sometimes scoring at will in isolation. Crawford is brilliant at the end of quarters and his handles will be sufficient to shake off both Richardson and Redick.
Josh Smith & Marvin Williams vs. Hedo Turkoglu & Quentin Richardson (and Earl Clark)
Wow, the match up problems here. Hedo Turkoglu, at first glance, would be a decent matchup against Smith. He’s 6’10” and long enough to bother any Smith jumpshots, but the difference between levels of athleticism is too great, and Josh Smith makes the Atlanta defense so much tougher by blocking and changing shots. They really couldn’t be more opposite players. Hedo relies on superior ball handling and jump shooting and Smith relies on athleticism and strength. When you take this matchup into account, you have to consider the effect that Smith has on the Hawks’ defense. Atlanta only scores 95 a game and top notch defense is essential if they are going to win. Marvin Williams and Quentin Richardson are more or less a draw. Williams has a big game every now and then and appears as though he finally “gets it,” but he never does and has not fulfilled the potential the Hawks saw when they drafted him second overall out of North Carolina.
Al Horford vs. Ryan Anderson & Brandon Bass
A two time all star against two young power forwards who split time. Atlanta has a huge advantage here, but we can never fully ignore the fact that Anderson & Bass are a 20 & 10 duo when combining their stats. Horford, though, will have big games against either Bass or Anderson, depending on whomever plays more minutes. Add in the fact that Josh Smith occasionally switches over to power forward (which will cause immense problems for Orlando), and the advantage here swings to the Hawks. Moving Horford off of Dwight Howard will be a tremendous boon for his offense and Atlanta should be able to get strong games from Horford.
Advantage: Atlanta, by less than most would think
Jason Collins vs. Dwight Howard
Here lies the biggest advantage you will find nearly in any matchup in the NBA playoffs. Howard is far too quick, strong, and intelligent for the cumbersome Collins to keep pace with. He’ll get plenty of help side defense from Horford and Smith, which will help, but Dwight should easily score 30+ against Collins. Atlanta thinks they did the smart thing in obtaining Collins to matchup with teams like Orlando, but they probably have actually done more harm than good. Collins brings almost nothing to the table offensively other than being a slightly above average passer for a big man, and it will allow Dwight Howard to cheat off him and stop dribble penetration from Crawford and Johnson. Dwight Howard’s advantage here is the Magic’s saving grace.
Looking at these matchups, and the fact that three of the five are in Atlanta’s favor, one would assume the Hawks have the upper hand in this matchup. That is far from the truth, however. Even though both teams have had small makeovers (the Magic’s more dramatic than the hawks of course), Orlando has just dominated Atlanta in the past and Howard has historically gone crazy against the Hawks. Collins only averages 12 minutes a game and puts up a remarkable 2 points per game, so when the Hawks face the Magic and Collins sees extended duty, expect the Atlanta offense to stagnate as Dwight Howard will be able to swing to weak side defenders and force a lot of bad Hawks shots.
Series Prediction: Orlando, 4 games to 2