Divisional rivals lock horns on the first day of the NBA playoffs on Saturday night, as the Orlando Magic welcome in the Atlanta Hawks for the first playoff game in the history of the new Amway Center.
We have a major concern this year over just how strong the Hawks really are, both in terms of skill and in terms of mental toughness. The mental issues that this team need to get over run deep. Atlanta was absolutely smacked by the Magic in the playoffs last year, losing four games in a row by an aggregate of 111 points, the biggest margin in the history of the league. We also know that the Hawks haven’t been playing all that hard, but they have been whooped up on in their last six overall. The good news is that the team did cover all four games in this series this year and had a 3-1 SU record to show for it, but it didn’t really have much to write home about since the Orlando roster has changed so much since that point. Still, the Hawks have the same general team that has had some playoff success in the past, as names like Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Al Horford, Jamal Crawford, and Marvin Williams are still all in the fold, but the hope is that the relatively newly acquired Kirk Hinrich can prove to be a big time upgrade on the departed Mike Bibby at the point guard spot.
If this Orlando team is winning in the playoffs, it is going to have to do so with a team that really never has felt like it has totally come together. Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson have been the two constants, but aside from that, there has been a rotation of players around like Gilbert Arenas, Jason Richardson, and Hedo Turkoglu, none of which were on this squad at the start of the season. The good news is that the return of Turkoglu marks the return of a man that helped get the Magic to the NBA Finals two seasons ago, and Head Coach Stan Van Gundy hopes that this can be the key to getting this team on track once and for all again. Still, Orlando is clearly the fourth best team in the Eastern Conference, and if it wants to prove that it can compete with the best, it should make short work out of this series. Keep an eye on the foul troubles for Howard, as he had a slew of issues just staying on the court last postseason.
Atlanta Hawks vs. Orlando Magic Game 1 Pick: Don’t count out the Hawks in this one. There is a heck of a lot of continuity here for Atlanta that is bound to really shine through at some point, and the hope is that Game 1 will be when this happens. Orlando has lost Game 1s in situations like this before, and it very well could happen once again. Either way, we definitely want the points, so take the Hawks +8.5.
is a staff writer living in the Orlando area. He has covered NFL, MLB, college football, CFL, AFL, NBA, college basketball, NASCAR, golf, tennis, and the NHL for a number of various outlets in his career, and he has been published by a number of different media outlets, including the Orlando Sentinel and the Wall Street Journal.