By Josh Cohen & Dan Savage | Around the Amway Archive
As they have done over the last few weeks in preparation for the playoffs, the Magic wanted to fine tune all of the fundamentals for the purpose of developing greater confidence before opening up their First Round series with the Atlanta Hawks.
Though still committing some excess turnovers (28), Orlando’s proficient offensive execution and solid defensive effort were plenty to reward it with a victory over the Indiana Pacers and extra buoyancy before Saturday’s Game 1.
Dwight Howard recorded 13 points and 13 rebounds to finish with an NBA-best 66 double-doubles this season, while three others scored in double figures including Ryan Anderson (14), Hedo Turkoglu (13) and Brandon Bass (13).
Mike Dunleavy and Brandon Rush paced Indiana, which will clash with the Chicago Bulls in its First Round playoff series, with 16 points each. The winner of that series will take on the either Orlando or Atlanta in the conference semifinals.
Unlike the last couple of weeks when the Magic already secured their playoff seed and inevitably knew whom they would match up with in the First Round, the next set of games are obviously most meaningful.
In a rematch of last year’s conference semis when Orlando swept Atlanta and won each game by an average margin of 25 points, this matchup is sure to be exciting.
Game 1 is set for Saturday at 7 p.m. at Amway Center.
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However, he was not able to complete his comeback on Wednesday night in Orlando’s regular season finale against the Indiana Pacers as he attempts to battle back from a lower abdominal strain that’s now sidelined him for the past 17 games.
Although Redick went through the team’s entire morning shootaround, the Magic decided to remain patient and instead save his potential return for the postseason.
"The hope is that he'll practice before the playoffs," Magic Head Coach Stan Van Gundy said. "He's getting pretty close."
The Magic’s backup shooting guard has spent weeks diligently working out with Magic Strength and Conditioning Coach Joe Rogowski attempting to rehabilitate and strengthen the muscles in his core.
“I feel like I’m really close to being able to practice,” he explained. “I’m hoping that Friday will be a normal day. That’s what I’m shooting for right now. I’ve been building over the last three or four days to get to that point.”
But while Redick is nearing his return, there’s still some concern about his effectiveness after not participating in game action since March 9.
“I think the stamina thing I don’t think it will take too long, but it will be an adjustment once I get into a game,’’ Redick added. “I’ve been running and conditioning, but there’s nothing that can simulate except playing in a game and hopefully I’ll get to that point and adjust quickly.”
The Magic are hopeful that his adjustment will come sooner rather than later.
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It seemed inevitable shortly after the All-Star break that these two division rivals would clash in the playoffs and on Saturday at 7 p.m. they will finally tip off their series.
While Atlanta won the regular season series 3-1, the outcome was inconsequential evidence of what to expect.
The first meeting was well before Orlando’s blockbuster trades; the second collision was during the Magic’s stomach virus epidemic, the third was the first game following the deals and the final contest was injury-plagued for the blue and white.
There are plenty of exciting matchups that will prove to be significant, including Joe Johnson vs. Jason Richardson and Josh Smith vs. Hedo Turkoglu.
Like they both did last year when the Magic swept the Hawks and won by an average margin of 25 points per game, Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson expect to flourish.
Superman, for one, posted at least 21 points in three of the four games in last year’s series with the Hawks and Nelson scored in double figures in all of the contests.
One of the biggest storylines for the Magic heading into the postseason is the status of J.J. Redick, who expects to return for Game 1. Redick missed the final 17 games of the regular season with a lower abdominal strain.
After Game 1, Orlando and Atlanta will have a few days off before returning to Amway Center for Game 2 on Tuesday. The series will shift to Philips Arena in Atlanta for Games 3 and 4 on Friday, April 22 and Sunday, April 24.
If a Game 5, 6 or 7 is necessary, those games will be played on April 26, 28 and 30.
Sure, it’s feasible for Josh Smith, Jamal Crawford or Al Horford to enjoy exceptional efforts throughout the series. But as it is in every playoff showdown, a team can’t win four games unless their star rises to the occasion.
It’s not far-fetched to conclude that if the Magic deny Joe Johnson from playing like the perennial All-Star that he is, Orlando will advance.
Last season, for the purpose of historical evidence, the Magic rebuffed Johnson’s attempt to guide his team to success in the conference semifinals. Here were Joe’s statistics:
Game 1: 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting
Game 2: 19 points on 5-of-16 shooting
Game 3: 8 points on 3-of-15 shooting
Game 4: 14 points on 5-of-14 shooting
The end result: Orlando swept Atlanta and won by an average margin of 25 points – the most in a four-game sweep in NBA history.
In effect, arguably the most essential player defensively for the Magic will be Jason Richardson – who will likely be responsible for guarding Johnson. While J-Rich’s general focus is on his scorching 3-point shooting and explosiveness in transition, in this series, his defense may be his greater concentration.
Since the Hawks utilize two of the more premier shooting guards in the NBA (Crawford being the other), it’s one specific reason why the Magic would love to have J.J. Redick return.
Having not played since early March when he strained his abdominal muscle, Redick is very capable of being a pesky defensive guard. Especially since Orlando will need J-Rich to flourish on the offensive end, having J.J. will allow for more comprehensive strategies.
Atlanta’s roster is filled with versatile, athletic players, who can create mismatches against any opponent.
However, when Orlando takes the floor, the player who could perhaps present the greatest challenge is Al Horford.
The All-Star big man is consistently among the league leaders in field goal percentage and rebounding and has already done his damage against Orlando this season.
The Hawks went an impressive 3-1 against the Magic during their 2010-11 campaign and Horford was an instrumental factor in their success.
In four games against Orlando, the former Gator averaged 16.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and four assists per game, while shooting a scorching 58 percent from the field. On a squad full of players that have their ups and downs, he’s one player who provides constant production.
“He can do a lot of things,” said Ryan Anderson, who will share the responsibility of covering Horford. “He is a very consistent mid-range shooter. That’s tough, not a lot of big guys have that skill and that ability.”
Horford’s mid-range game becomes such a threat for Orlando, because of the skill-set of Atlanta’s guards.
While the Magic can limit Joe Johnson, Jamal Crawford and Kirk Hinrich by sucking in and collapsing as they attack the rack, it will be an immensely difficult task to also close out on Horford when he’s left open for jumpers.
“He’s a tough guy to guard, because he has such a down-low presence,” Anderson added. “We need to eliminate easy buckets for him and stop that mid-range jumper.”
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