Alternate Headline: Blogger loses mind, picks against society in general.
It's the least interesting playoff series outside of those in Atlanta and Orlando. Ok.
Also, after a late season lottery looking effort from the good guys and last year's second round throttling still in the minds of many, maybe it's some consolation that the experts aren't all picking the Magic to sweep the Hawks out of the playoffs again.
Fact: The Hawks have looked, well, stinky in the last----oh, I don't know, 30-something games---but I know this team. It's been well established from back before the all-star break that the team was pretty much a fifth place squad. With injuries taking their toll, I believe the Hawks checked out until the playoffs. They know who they are, they've been here before. They believe, as they've done often in the regular season, that they can flip the switch once the games matter to them again.
So what will this playoff matchup bring?
I can't get out of my head what I saw against Orlando after Otis Smith made his pair of big deals, sending away first ballot HOF Hawk Hater Vince Carter, along with Rashard Lewis, Marcin Gortat, and Michael Pietrus for Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson, and Gilbert Arenas. Suddenly, the Magic had fewer players who could hurt the Hawks going to the basket, less depth up front against our undersized frontcourt, and less defense overall.
I am going to say it right now: The Hawks are a better team than the Magic. They are. This isn't to say that the Hawks have made great strides since last season's debacle in the playoffs, but rather to state that the Magic aren't the matchup nightmare that they've been for the ATL the last two years.
The Hawks didn't even play a really good game (15 turnovers, 41 percent shooting, awful nights from Smith and Joe Johnson, bad free throw shooting) and still mainly held off the Magic for the entire game. Sure, the Magic just made two huge deals and the team needs to gel, but they seemed unwilling or unable to attack Mike Bibby with Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson (or Gilbert Arenas for that matter) is no Hawk Hater on the level of Vince Carter, and the Hawks have now flipped the script on the matchup issue with the Magic, now using their height to give Orlando fits.
Dwight Howard is still the man, but he and Nelson are the last men standing in Orlando. These trades aren't going to make Hedo Turkoglusuddenly morph into the guy he was in 2008, Jason Richardson won't make Hawks fans wistful for Vince, and Gilbert is a shell of the player he was four years ago. I'm going to file this under "good news" for the Hawks.
I made my choice, and I stand by it.
You can very well make the case that the Hawks are a fragmented team, shaken apart by a lack of direction, with no ostensible strategy on either end. And you'd be right. And such truth wouldn't make things look good for the Hawks to win a game.
But I don't just think they can win a game....I think they can win the series.
Crazy? Probably. But hear me out.
Given the reasons above, I still believe that the Magic don't have the matchups to beat the Hawks.
A key difference between this year and last is the well documented "better than last year shape" Jason Collins factor. Whether Collins guards Howard exquisitely or not is only part of the value of his matchup with Dwight. The real benefit is the placebo effect he gives the coaching staff and his teammates. Leaving Howard one on one allows the Hawks to clamp down on the myriad shooters the Magic have. And when they do that, especially since only Nelson has shown a proclivity to taking advantage of this still glaring defensive weakness of the Hawks, they shut down a large part of what ran the Hawks out of the gym previously.
Critics will say that the Hawks are not as well mentally as a team as they were when beating the Magic in the regular season, a symptom which is ill-suited for the postseason. My response to that is that obviously you haven't been around this team to understand their complete amnesia to such things. They are just as capable of playing an "A" game as an "F" game. That they lose by 73 to the University of Two Left Feet has no bearing on what they do tomorrow night. Think Golden State against the Mavericks a few seasons back.
Also, on a more tongue and cheek note, most Hawks fans have tired of this core, the staff, and management, and might wish for a merciful sweep to register the red flag that there needs to be change for long term championship hopes.
So what would be more derailing to those hopes than to totally upset the Magic and defer those initiatives another year? Just when you think you can count on them for a certain result, they spin on you. Yahtzee! First round upset, beating the odds, and one more year of all things staying the same. Hey, maybe there can be a Jamal Crawford extension in the works if that happens!
My serious summary is this: The Hawks have proven, on the court, that they match up very well with the Magic, even when the Hawks don't bring their "A" game. If the team is able to defend Howard one-on-one and maintain the defensive blueprint for closing out their shooters, as they have consistently this season, then they can win 4 out of 7 games against this team and move on.
I believe they can and will do just that.
Final Prediction: Hawks in 7
Now, back to my padded white room.