Collins averaged 19.8 minutes per game against the Magic, compared to 11.4 against all other clubs. Though Howard still scored better than one point every two minutes against Atlanta--19.3 points in 37.1 minutes, to be precise--Collins limited his efficiency; Howard's 43.1 percent shooting mark against Atlanta is his worst against any team this season.Josh Smith may be using perceived disrespect to motivate him for this series. The bigger worry for the Hawks, I suspect, than something Jameer Nelson said should be Dwight Howard's disinterest in people continuing to marvel at how well Jason Collins can guard him.
Thanks to PopcornMachine GameFlows and ESPN play-by-play data, we can further isolate instances in which Collins and Howard played together. The results are staggering: in the 78:10 both players shared the court this season, Howard shot 14-of-33 (42.4 percent) and committed 13 turnovers. The data don't tell us whether or not Collins actually defended Howard on each possession--he could have gotten caught on a switch, or lost in transition--but they nonetheless show Collins' tremendous defensive impact.
As a bonus for Atlanta, Collins does more than bottle Howard up: he also limits his minutes by drawing fouls.
Collins drew eight of the 14 fouls Howard committed against the Hawks this season; five were offensive outright, and another two came in a loose-ball situation, which automatically gave Atlanta possession. Generally speaking, both teams play at slow paces, which raises the value of each trip down the floor. The Magic must limit their giveaways anyway, but especially ones which also tack a foul onto their best player.
The good news for Orlando is Howard utterly dominated the Hawks whenever Collins sat, which indicates it's in the Magic's best interest to saddle Collins with fouls to keep him on the bench. In 69 minutes versus the Hawks without Collins on the floor, Howard overwhelmed Atlanta offensively to the tune of 47 points on 13-of-16 shooting. That Howard attempted almost twice as many foul shots (31) as field goals with Collins benched indicates how vital Collins is to Atlanta's success, as neither his backups (Zaza Pachulia, Josh Powell, and Etan Thomas) nor the other Hawk capable of playing center (two-time All-Star Al Horford) can muscle Howard out of the lane or limit his easy shot attempts.
The easiest way for Howard to get the better of Collins is to get Collins on the bench with foul trouble (real or perceived). This season, Collins committed a foul every 6 minutes and 20 seconds he was on the floor against the other 29 teams. Against the Magic, Collins committed a foul every five minutes he was on the floor. If Howard can get that down to one foul by Collins every four minutes, every four-and-a-half minutes, well, next thing you know he's got Etan Thomas guarding him.