Savage & Cohen's Great Debate: Prime Target

Dan Savage and Josh Cohen debate which player on the Hawks should be the Magic's prime target, Joe Johnson or Al Horford.
By Dan Savage

The Orlando Magic will certainly have their hands full when they tip off their First Round series with the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET at Amway Center.

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.”

While Brandon Bass and Anderson will certainly be up to the task, this matchup is one to watch if the Magic want to grab an early series lead against their Southeast Division rivals.
By Josh Cohen

Creative and enterprising minds may suggest that the most imperative defensive facet for the Orlando Magic against the Atlanta Hawks will be limiting their adversary’s supporting cast from having atypically great performances.

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.

“I think he can really help us even if it’s in limited minutes,” Stan Van Gundy said about Redick.

Regardless of Redick’s status, however, Gilbert Arenas may also be a critical player for the Magic in their attempt to slow down Johnson. If Gil can find some rhythm offensively, it will force Joe to exhaust some of his efforts on the defensive end.
Who do you think the Magic need to focus in on more defensively in their series with the Hawks?
Who do you think the Magic need to focus in on more defensively in their series with the Hawks?
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