"We still haven’t figured out what we are going to do yet as far as double [team] him or play him straight-up. That is something I will sleep on tonight and make the final decision [Tuesday]."Michael Cunningham fired up the Synergy Sports console and commenced to study:
In the four games against the Hawks, Howard attempted to score 34 times on post-ups against Horford. The Hawks sent a second defender before Howard made his move on 10 of those possessions.Josh Smith on Dwight Howard, being priceless:
When Howard was alone vs. Horford, the Magic center scored 16 points on 24 possessions (five field goals and six free throws). Howard turned the ball over four times.
That’s excellent defense by Horford, but it's even better when he gets help. The Hawks forced nine turnovers on those 10 possessions (Howard scored the one time he got off a shot).
"I think that mentally he let a lot of things take him out of his game in the last series. That's why he wasn't that effective. If we try to do the same things, I think that we'll be OK."Howard:
"We've had a long time to prepare for just about everything."Defending Howard is only the start of defending the Magic. The other 11 Orlando players made 53.2% of their two-point attempts in the four games against the Hawks this season.
Orlando plays to Atlanta's defensive weaknesses by making them defend four spots at the perimeter, hence the big nights from Anthony Johnson, Jason Williams, Ryan Anderson, and Matt Barnes.
Jameer Nelson does not sound concerned about the Hawks cross-matching on him with Joe Johnson:
"It opens up things for other guys as well. He’s a great defender, I think. When he uses size, I just use my quickness against him and try to make plays. If you put a 6-7 guy on me, you’re leaving [Mike] Bibby on one of our 6-7 guys. It’s like a Catch-22."Michael Cunningham also studied how the Magic created their three-point shots against the Hawks this season:
It was crazy to see how many different ways the Magic got open 3-pointers . They used ball screens, pin-down screens, hand-offs, drive-and-kicks, pick-and-pops, and simple (but fast) ball reversals. There’s no hesitation. The Magic are always looking for 3. They are ready to fire when they get space and it doesn’t seem to matter if they are cold or hot for the game. The Magic don’t even need to involve Dwight in all that action because they are so good at moving the ball. It’s not just the guards, either–forwards Rashard Lewis and Ryan Anderson get in on it, too. When Jameer Nelson came back to play in the last game against the Hawks he added yet another element with his quickness and savvy.Perhaps the most disheartening thing about the three lopsided losses* the Hawks suffered this season is that Orlando didn't shoot the three often or well by their standards.
Before the Hawks even begin to think about defending Dwight, they have to deal with all that going on at the 3-point line. It takes great awareness to do it and, well, I don’t have to tell you that’s not always been a strong suit for the Hawks.
*and even the narrowness of the win
"We can’t get discouraged if they make some threes. I’ve watched teams that play them, and they start bombing threes and then you get away from your original gameplan. Yeah, we are going to have to make adjustments on the fly. But I don’t want our guys to get discouraged because they make threes. We make threes [too]. It goes both ways."I don't think it's the threes that are the issue. In fact, I believe it would be better for the Hawks to match the Magic three-point attempt for three-point attempt rather than doubling them up on long two-pointers. Of course, Orlando will try to prevent that so it's easier said* than done.
*Probably unlikely to be said, also.
But, the dominance of Orlando's defense against Atlanta's offense appears not to be an issue of interest on the eve of the series. Seriously, Orlando scored 113.3 points per 100 possessions during the regular season. The Hawks allowed 108.3 points per 100 possessions in the regular season. Orlando scored 111.9 points per 100 possessions in the four games against the Hawks. There's certainly no reason for the Hawks not to try and do better but they didn't defend Orlando badly (by their standards) while losing three of four games.
Conversely, the Hawks scored 113.5 points per 100 possessions during the regular season. The Magic allowed 105.1 points per 100 possessions in the regular season. The Hawks scored 93.5 points per 100 possessions in the four games against Orlando. There's massive room (and need) for improvement when the Hawks have the ball.
Granted, the Hawks held Orlando below 1 point per possession in their March 24th victory and that's the only recent example the Hawks have of beating Orlando. However, Orlando held the Hawks below 1 point per possession each time they played this season. I don't think it's realistic for the Hawks, against whom, it must be remembered, Milwaukee surpassed their season offensive efficiency average in 3 of 7 playoff games, to hold Orlando to 88% of their season offensive efficiency average often enough to win a seven-game playoff series.
The Hawks are going to have to find easier ways to score against the Magic to compete in this series. If they have any new and different ideas about how to accomplish that, they're keeping them quiet.