Magic/Hawks Series Preview
Rusty vs. tired.
by Nada Taha Moslehy
336 minutes played. 192 hours of rest.
While Orlando was the only team to sweep in the first round, finishing off Charlotte in four games, Atlanta was the only squad to force a Game 7, struggling to close out a battered Milwaukee team.
Itching to get back into the swing of things, the Magic, who were simulating Playoff basketball during practices, were hoping the Bucks would have finished off Atlanta in six games so they could end their rest period.
On the one hand, Atlanta, who’s fresh off a series and still in stride, may be tired from a rigorous seven games. On the other hand, the Magic have rested, watched tape and rested some more, but may start the second round series somewhat out of form.
It’s a battle of rust versus fatigue.
But when the Magic’s rust starts to wear off, their weapons begin to show: a 3-1 season series matchup advantage, post-season experience and Dwight Howard.
“If there’s rust, we’ll just have to play through it,’’ Magic guard Vince Carter said. “That first quarter on Tuesday night will be an important one. They’re in rhythm from playing and we might be rusty, but our focus has to be at an all-time high going into this game.’’
In their season series, the Hawks were barely able to crack 40 percent shooting and couldn’t get past 86 points in four games, while the Magic won their first three meetings by an average of 22.3 points.
Dwight Howard spent more time on the bench as a spectator than the dominant center spent in the paint during the first round series against the Bobcats. But the Hawks had no answer for him during the season.
If Dwight and Carter can jump out of their funk and dust off their eight days worth of rest to do better than their first round performances (9.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1-17 from three point range, 35.7 percent shooting, respectively), they can take another week-long break going into the Eastern Conference Finals.
The question isn’t if the Magic can win the series, it’s if they can break out the WD-40 early enough to close out Atlanta in five, or will the series drag out to six (or even seven) games?
POINT GUARD: JAMEER NELSON VS. MIKE BIBBY
Jameer averages more points, rebounds and assists than veteran Mike Bibby. Not to mention he’s coming off a stellar first-round performance, averaging 23.8 points. Bibby, well, he’s the savvy veteran who no one expects a big series out of.
SHOOTING GUARD: VINCE CARTER VS. JOE JOHNSON
As Atlanta’s star player, Joe Johnson is carrying most of the scoring load for the Hawks on his back (averaging 21.3 ppg). But the Magic held him to 16.3 ppg and 38 percent during the season. Vince Carter, however, doesn’t really need to put up all-star numbers with an all-star supporting cast of Dwight Howard, Jameer Nelson and Rashard Lewis – but the pressure’s on to see if the Magic’s major off-season acquisition will live up to his potential.
SMALL FORWARD: MATT BARNES VS. MARVIN WILLIAMS
If the Marvin Williams that Atlanta drafted shows up, he could take the advantage of this matchup and be a major X-factor for the Hawks. But if he’s a no-show, like he’s been several times during the season, the matchup will go to scrappy and tough Matt Barnes who brings energy and hustle to the Magic’s lineup.
POWER FORWARD: RASHARD LEWIS VS. JOSH SMITH
Although Smith had that nasty buzzer-beating, put-back dunk in the Hawks’ only win over the Magic in the regular season, Rashard Lewis has ice flowing in his blood stream. Lewis’ versatility at power forward causes massive matchup problems for many teams, but Smith is a rarity in that he can match his athleticism, reducing the matchup nightmare that the Magic usually cause.
CENTER: DWIGHT HOWARD VS. AL HORFORD
The Bobcats had three 7-footers who each had six fouls to throw at Dwight in round one. He was practically invisible in that series, but in three of his four meetings with the Hawks, he posted 31 points and 19 boards, 22 and 17 and 19 and 24. With Al Horford being such a key to the Hawks’ success, they can’t afford to have him in foul trouble, and would really want an undersized Zaza Pachulia guarding Dwight Howard?
Advantage: Do I even need to say this?
PREDICTION: Magic in 5