What could be better than our award-winning (and largely accurate) playoff preview from Round One?
Why, a no-holds barred, extremely insightful preview of Round Two, of course---starring your favorite blog hosts, Drew and myself.
To whet the appetite (I am pretty hungry, actually) check out this snippet from the Round One preview:
While I truly believe the Hawks, especially playing the Bucks without Bogut, can take the series in four games given their talent advantage-- their history of not remaining focused from game to game may cause the series to extend out beyond a sweep. Considering that, plus that the Bucks under Scott Skiles always bring the effort and energy, and the likelihood of the Hawks taking care of business in Games 1 and 2 at home might allow the guard to be let down and MIL to take advantage a couple of times.
Frightening foresight, no? More of that (and other stuff you may/may not care about) in our conversation after the jump:
THHB: Drew, what, if anything, do the Hawks take from Round One into Round Two?
Drew: The biggest thing the Hawks had to deal with in round one was taking a team lightly, and in doing so, they found excuses to put forth minimal effort, disregard team basketball, and "get their own" first. I think those qualities might pop up against the Magic, but it will be more out of fear during a mid game run by the opponent than Atlanta thinking they can actually win playing half halfheartedly on defense and going one on one on offense.
So I guess what I would hope they take away is the fact that their go to fourth quarter basketball move is not their identity or at least not their successful one, and that when focused, this Hawks team is good enough to force any team to play a style of basketball that wins game (focus on rebounding and defense that leads to selfless offense through advantageous match ups and ball movement). In the past, the Hawks have not believed in or cared enough about that style so that when teams forced them out of it they rarely put up a fight. Lets hope the Bucks series makes that "oh well lets watch Joe dribble" approach less likely.
The Magic have a lot of mismatches? Which one do you think is overrated, which one do you see as a possible series crusher?
THHB: I think that the third sting backup point guard issue is way overblown. (rimshot)
Seriously, other than that fictitious comparison, I think that the inside advantages Howard has enjoyed over the Hawks is real, and it's spectacular. There is also the perimeter game, now featuring noted Hawk Hater Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis, and even JJ Redick, and the ability to penetrate by Jameer Nelson, all of which highlights why Orlando is a very bad match-up for the Hawks--in fact probably worse than any other team in the league.
We have to go inside and score in the paint to be consistently successful---they are stingy landlords inside. They like to use Howard inside offensively to suck the defense in and make teams pay for leaving shooters open---and that's what the Hawks have to do to prevent our bigs from fouling out in the first quarter.
Yikes---Talk me down off the ledge---how are the Hawks going to be able to keep the Magic from extending their reign of terror over us?
Drew: The Hawks won one out of four during the regular season. So right there we are looking at a game five. Obviously, people are going to talk about the put back dunk win verses three dominant loses but the Hawks dominated the Celtics and I would not say the Hawks would obviously win that series. I would expect the Hawks to but not bet the mortgage. Well, I expect the Magic to win. They have the advantage on key match-ups and are the better team top to bottom, but four wins in seven is not an impossibility. Two points deserve mentioning on this front.
First, not one of the top six players on the Hawks had an above average game in the first three. That is a testament to the Magics defense. What is clear though is the Hawks offense is not normally as bad as they are against the Magic. The question is whether good defense compounded bad offense or good defense made bad offense. I would like to think the Hawks can play good offense against the Magic even if it is not as good as normal offense. Will it happen in four games? Tough to argue for that. Could it happen in two games and tough shot Joe Johnson show up for two more? Very much so.
Second, someone not in the Magic offensive top four (Anthony Johnson, Ryan Anderson, JJ Redick, Matt Barnes, or Jason Williams) had very good games in those first three outings. This is a testament to the Hawks inability to guard Howard one on one. Rarely did the Hawks play great team defense during the year, and that is not something you turn on come playoff time. Still, if the Hawks can make Orlando's reserves play like reserves, it would cut down the margin of error. I do not think Atlanta's defense will be an advantage by any means, but I expect it to be better than it was in the regular season.
Three things that could help these two points have some semblance of truth? Team rebounding, attack Dwight Howard at the basket through ball movement, and a clear and effort filled strategy when it comes to double teaming Howard, and rotating on the shooters. The Hawks are athletic and skilled enough to do all three of these things. The question is are they self aware and disciplined?
So are they, and if they are (or even if they are not), what offensive strategy would you like to see employed?
THHB:I think we'll agree that the Hawks have to neutralize Howard's ability to wreck our offense by trying to pull him away from the hoop in some way. By some way, I mean using Horford in a pick and/or roll capacity and knocking down--or just simply taking that mid range shot. On the non-Horfy front, gotta drive, draw, and dish to get some shooters open. That's not something we do particularly well--or at all, in fact, but it will make the Magic defense move and play away from their main defensive strength--that being the DPOY Howard.
Now all this means that the Hawks are going to have to change their approach on the offensive end---can they or are they willing to do it? I'm afraid only a Milwaukee Circa Game Five level embarrassment in the two games in Orlando will force Woodson's hands. Until then--it may be fall away and fire and cross your fingers for hot shooting.
Besides the obvious (Howard)---who do you think poses the most problems for the Birds?
Drew: Sadly, I think hot shooting/bad shooting by the Magic is a must, and that comes from a mix of the Magic being better and our coach's history of being unwilling to change the offense from what is normal to what works.
As far as other Magic players that cause problems, Jameer Nelson had a killer instinct against the Bobcats. That is no good for Hawks fans. He is much better than Anthony Johnson and Jason Williams and both those guys had big games against the Hawks earlier in the year.
As far as Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis go, if they get hot, the Hawks are in series trouble, but I do not worry too much about them because the damage they can do to their own team if they are not hot is an advantage for the Hawks, and I do not expect them to be hot for more than three games. Now if those two are hot for different games.....
What is your prediction for Joe Johnson this series? Normal Joe? 21 points, 5 assists, 5 boards on ok shooting or something bigger?
THHB: I think that Joe is going to find things difficult if the Hawks aren't able to open the floor up more for him. If they can't, he will face increasingly more difficult shots---and we know he won't shy away from them. This includes going inside, which he does regularly--though it famously does not result in free throws. He showed in the MIL series that he can miss those tough inside shots just as much as the tough outside shots. The Hawks have to get Joe in better position to make his shots--and that means penetrate and dish, as well as pulling Howard out of the middle.
Let's get to it---what are your predictions for this series, including the final result?
Drew: Well, wait, I have one more question. What kind of defense can the Hawks throw at the Magic that can slow down Howard without leaving shooters wide open (or at least less wide open)?
As for results, I am going to go moderately optimistic and specific. Magic win in six with all but one game being very close.
What are you going with?
THHB: Can we play six on five? No? Ok, the best the Hawks can do is double down on Howard and quickly---and I mean quickly rotate and close out---hoping that the weakest Magic offensive player ends up hoisting the shot or that they miss when they take them. The Hawks simply don't have the defensive players or size to play Dwight 1 on 1.
As for the series, I predict that the Hawks will lose both Games One and Two because they won't change what they've done offensively fast enough. Then, when they are counted out, they will win Game Three and get our hopes up that we can make it a series before Orlando stick a pin in our balloon by winning a close one in Game Four after we lose a lead late. Heartbroken, we will return to Orlando in Game Five and play hard, but the home team will prevail and send us into our off-season.
My heart says we have the talent to go the distance---my mind and our track record compels me to predict otherwise.