After 8 days off, the Orlando Magic get back to the grind when they take on the Atlanta Hawks, who've had just 2 days off, in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Semifinals series. Both teams will have their full complement of players, as Magic coach Stan Van Gundy confirmed that reserve forward Mickael Pietrus is available tonight after testing his sprained left ankle in practice this morning. Recent history is not on Atlanta's side, as it's dropped 6 of the 8 meetings to Orlando over the last two seasons, which includes losses by 17, 18, 32, and 34 points. The Hawks' lone win over the Magic this year came by two points at the final buzzer. But then again, Atlanta is fresh off eliminating the Milwaukee Bucks despite facing a 3-2 series deficit, and its comeback included a Game 6 win in Milwaukee, the franchise's first road playoff win in the last three seasons. And though Orlando has momentum of its own, having swept the Charlotte Bobcats in the first round, its time off could prove detrimental to its cause.
|2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals
|Series Tied, 0-0
|May 4th, 2010
|November 26th: Magic 93, Hawks 76
|January 9th: Magic 113, Hawks 81
|January 30th: Magic 104, Hawks 86
|March 24th: Hawks 86, Magic 84
Again, my position with playoff GameThreads is to keep them light, as the time between games offers plenty of opportunities for additional analysis; I refer you to Playoff Central above for more on this series.
What I do want to address here is the issue of attacking Hawks point guard Mike Bibby, whom coach Mike Woodson hides by having him defend the opposing team's least threatening offensive player. Magic coach Stan Van Gundy expects the Hawks will cross-match 6'07" shooting guard Joe Johnson onto 6'00" point guard Jameer Nelson, and then put the 6'01" Bibby on the 6'07" small forward Matt Barnes. In turn, small forward Marvin Williams will check shooting guard Vince Carter. Johnson's size and strength will bother Nelson, who will struggle to get a shot off over him without the aid of several screens. But there is a way to make this arrangement work. Bibby's not a terrible off-ball defender, but he does tend to get caught ball-watching on the weak side. This weakness plays into one of Barnes' strengths: cutting. Barnes will have chances to cut strong to the basket around Bibby's defense, and it'll be up to Nelson or Dwight Howard to recognize it and feed him the ball. That's one way to get points easily.
Another is to find Howard in transition. He's matched up against Al Horford, a solid defender who nonetheless lacks the physical tools to challenge Howard inside. He has to make a concerted effort to run to the charge semicircle, keep Horford on his back, and make himself available for the pass. And his teammates have to look for him. Transition three-balls are tempting, and Van Gundy encourages his players to take them. But here, they really have to look to Howard first, especially since the Hawks have proven effective when they send double-teams Howard's way.