#3 Atlanta Hawks
(53-29, 2nd place in Southeast Division)
#2 Orlando Magic
(59-23, 1st place in Southeast Division)
How They Got Here: Even though the Hawks appeared to be the better teams for the duration of their first round series with the Milwaukee Bucks, the #6 seed in the East gave the higher seed all that they could handle and then some. It took Atlanta seven games to dispose of the pesky Bucks, and now it will move on to deal with a foe that it has had no luck in the past again, the Orlando Magic.
Player To Watch: F Al Horford is coming back home where he played his college ball at the University of Florida. He averaged 15.6 points and 9.9 rebounds per game against Milwaukee, but this isn’t going to be an undersized and outmatched Bucks team that he is facing anymore. Horford will be matched up quite often with C Dwight Howard in a battle that should be fantastic in the paint.
X-Factor: F Marvin Williams was relatively quiet in the first round, averaging just 9.6 points and 6.4 boards per game. His athletic ability could be incredibly annoying to a player like F Rashard Lewis, and if Williams can successfully take one of the options away from HC Stan Van Gundy on the offensive side of the court, the Magic could be in some trouble.
Key To Victory: Unlike Orlando’s last foe, the Hawks have the bodies to match up inside with Howard. If Charlotte got Superman in foul trouble, so can Atlanta. It may take minutes from guys like C Zaza Pachulia and C Jason Collins, but the Hawks are going to need to throw players at Howard and get him frustrated once again to win this series.
How They Got Here: What has to be scary for the rest of the NBA is how easily the Magic ditched the Charlotte Bobcats out of the playoffs in the first round. C Dwight Howard felt like he spent that entire series on the bench in foul trouble, yet Orlando still busted out the brooms for the only sweep in the conference quarterfinals.
Player To Watch: How could we highlight anyone aside from G Jameer Nelson in this spot? The St. Joe’s product just went off in a few games in the Bobcats’ series, scoring an average of 23.8 points per game. If he is knocking down shots from the outside, not only will Atlanta be in trouble, but so will everyone else in the league that is still standing.
X-Factor: F Matt Barnes is a hustler and a real pest of a defender. He may be able to do the same thing to a guy like G Joe Johnson that Williams may be able to do to Lewis. The difference is, Orlando has plenty of options to scoring, while Atlanta’s are limited.
Key To Victory: Just don’t get frustrated. Howard has a tendency of mentally checking out of games when he gets into foul trouble, and sometimes it shows on the rest of the team as well. Talent alone brought Orlando this far in the playoffs, but it’s going to take some mental toughness as well to take out a divisional rival.
The Final Word: Atlanta did win the most recent battle of these two teams 86-84 at Philips Arena, but the Magic had won the previous six and covered the NBA betting lines in all six. It’s hard to see how all of a sudden, the Hawks are going to get up off the mat and figure out how to win four games out of seven against their divisional foes. Look for the Magic to make the tired Hawks disappear relatively quickly.
Magic in 5