I got a chance to catch up with Kris Willis of the Atlanta Hawks blog Soaring Down South. We exchanged questions to get the other side’s outlook on this series.
1. The Atlanta Hawks have really struggled with the Orlando Magic over the past two seasons due in large part to Dwight Howard. What will Atlanta do to try to contain the big man?
I think that the Hawks will have to double Howard in the post to have any hope of slowing him down. In the past I have seen them try and let Horford single cover him which usually leads to foul trouble. When they do double then they will risk leaving a three point shooter open so their rotations will have to be sound. Of course probably the best defense for Howard is to attacking him on the defensive end in the hope of getting him in foul trouble. The Bobcats had some success driving the ball into the paint. The Hawks though are not as adept at driving and getting to the free throw line.
2. Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford have shot a combined 42-of-121 from the field and have posted an effective field goal percentage of just 38.8% against the Magic this season. What’s been the problem?
For whatever reason the Hawks simply have not played well offensively against the Magic. Even in the victory in Atlanta was a low scoring affair. I think the problem has been two fold. One the Magic are an excellent defensive team. They are long and athletic and can do a great job playing one on one defense against the Hawks. Two the Magic have put the Hawks in situations where they were trying to play catch up. That leads to a few more desperate shots and lower percentages. It will be paramount for the Hawks to get off to good starts in this series as to prevent themselves from getting buried early.
3. Al Horford has had a breakout season. He made the All-Star team and just completed an excellent first round series against the Milwaukee Bucks, posting 15.6 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. How important has Horford’s development been to the Hawks this season?
Al Horford’s development has been huge for Atlanta. The first time he stepped on the court as a rookie he did so as a winner and has exhibited leadership qualities ever sense. There has been much talk in Atlanta this season about Horford being underutilized especially offensively. His ability to step out and hit the 15-17 foot jump shot will be paramount in this series. He has improved his low post game but will have a tough time scoring from there against Howard. He will be much more effective running the pick and pop or operating from the high post where the Hawks can take advantage of his good passing.
4. Where do you think the Hawks can exploit the Magic? Is there a specific area where the Hawks have a clear advantage?
This is a tough question because I don’t see any discernible advantage that the Hawks have over the Magic. If anything I think the Hawks could use their athleticism to come up with some offensive rebounds and perhaps hurt the Magic in that area but that is still a tall order due to Howard’s presence. The Hawks are going to be small up front and players like Rashard Lewis are going to pull Josh Smith out away from the basket thus negating their best shot blocker. Really if the Magic are healthy then I don’t like any of the match ups.
5. What’s your prediction? Why?
This is putting me on the spot and I hope that I am wrong but I think that the Magic are still the best team in the Eastern Conference. I don’t think it will be a sweep but at the same time I think the Hawks would be very fortunate to extend the series out to six games. The first round series with Milwaukee did little to garner any confidence that the Hawks could be successful beyond the first round. In the end there are just too many match up problems and I don’t have a lot of confidence that the Hawks will make adjustments from game to game. To have a shot in this series the Hawks will have to play the best basketball they have played the entire season. They will also need a lot of foul trouble from Howard and hopefully a sub par shooting series from the Magic. If the Hawks were able to force some turnovers then they might could stay afloat in the series. As much as it pains me to say it I will go with Magic in five games.
Thank you for your time Kris.
(Andrew Melnick is Howard the Dunk’s lead blogger, a contributor on the Fansided Front Page and at Sir Charles In Charge. Subscribe to his RSS feed, add him on Twitter to follow him daily and you can get the HTD app here).