Setting the stage: The Atlanta Hawks and Orlando Magic are all set to begin their first round Eastern Conference playoff series on Saturday, April 16. The Magic are currently listed as an 8.5-point favorite with the total set at 179.5 in game 1.
Atlanta earned the #5 seed with a 44-38 record while Orlando took the #4 seed with a 52-30 mark. As the higher seed, the Magic hold the home-court advantage in this series.
These Southeast Division rivals met four times during the regular season with Atlanta taking three of the meetings. After losing 93-89 at Orlando on Nov. 8, the Hawks won the next three by scores of 80-74, 91-81 and 85-82.
Atlanta was swept by Orlando in the Eastern Conference semifinals last year.
The Hawks are led by guard Joe Johnson in points (18.2 per game) and assists (4.7 per game). Forward Al Horford leads the Hawks in rebounding (9.3 per game) and forward Josh Smith leads them in steals (1.3 per game) and blocks (1.6 per game).
The Magic are led by center Dwight Howard in points (22.9 per game), rebounds (14.1 per game), blocks (2.4 per game) and steals (1.4 per game). Point guard Jameer Nelson leads the Magic with 6.0 assists per contest.
What the Hawks need to do to win the series: Orlando is one of the best three-point shooting teams in the NBA. It averages nine three-point makes per game on 36.7 percent shooting. Orlando killed the Hawks with the three-point shot when it swept them in last year’s playoffs, making an average of 11.0 per game. Fortunately, Atlanta has done an excellent job of defending the long ball this season. The Hawks enter the playoffs allowing opponents to shoot just 33.8 percent from deep (4th in the NBA). They have held the Magic to 19 of 84 (22.6 percent) from three-point range this season. Chasing Orlando off the the three-point stripe will be critical to avenging last year’s playoff defeat.
The Hawks also don’t want to give the Magic many easy baskets. They are better off giving up fouls to put Orlando on the free throw line. The Magic are one of the worst foul shooting teams in the NBA at 69.2 percent (30th in the NBA).
The Hawks are listed at +10000 to win the NBA championship.
What the Magic need to do to win the series: The Magic need to play inside out through Howard. The Orlando big man has taken his low-post game to a new level this season. He knows how to command a double team and has shown he find open shooters when the double comes. Orlando is a good three-point shooting team, but it falls in love with the perimeter shot too much in stretches. A steady dose of post feeds to Howard will give the Magic the best chance to win this series.
It is crucial that Howard stay out of foul trouble. His presence in the paint is vital on both ends of the court. Howard has a tendency to lose his head. He must show mental toughness for the Magic to come out on top.
The Magic are listed at +1100 to win the NBA championship.
Prediction: Atlanta has played the Magic well this season but it doesn’t enter the playoffs in good current form. It has lost six in a row and 20 of its last 31. Plus, Orlando is one of the best home teams in the NBA at 29-12 and it holds the home court advantage. Magic in 7.
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