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No introduction necessary.
A few days ago, I was able to ask Rock a few questions to preview the 2010 NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals between the Orlando Magic and the Atlanta Hawks.
Do you foresee Jameer Nelson having his way on offense in his matchup with Mike Bibby as he did against Raymond Felton?
I’ll put it this way: [Jameer] Nelson might not stay as hot as he was against Charlotte, but if there’s any defender who can help keep him hot, it’s Mike Bibby. The Hawks switch every screen, and have for years under coach Mike Woodson, which helps hide Bibby’s poor D somewhat. But Nelson likely won’t need any screens to get to where he wants on the floor against Bibby. I expect him to do more driving and less three-point bombing against the Hawks.
Given that he’ll be facing off against Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia, two players he hasn’t had much trouble scoring on in the past, Dwight Howard should regress to the mean offensively. Right?
[Dwight] Howard‘s due, yeah. Pachulia, Horford, and Jason Collins know how to sell offensive fouls, so he has to be wary of that. But no, he should get to the basket with relative ease. And with Rashard Lewis and Ryan Anderson hanging around the three-point line, Josh Smith will have to travel a greater distance to get the weak-side shot-block. Atlanta will put Howard at the line, though. They’ll wrap him up pretty good and make him earn it. But he shouldn’t struggle against these guys. Don’t get me wrong, Horford’s a tremendous defender, but he doesn’t have the physical tools to keep up with Howard.
It’s no secret that Jason Williams did little to nothing in the first round against the Charlotte Bobcats, partly because Nelson played like a man possessed and was on the floor a lot. What would you like to see him do in the Eastern Conference Semifinals?
[Jason] Williams‘ job is to push the pace and get the Magic into their offense, in that order. He struggled against Charlotte because of the slow pace of the games. He’s a great passer and intelligent player, but miscast as a walk-it-up point guard, which is what he turned into in the prior series. Atlanta plays at the league’s fourth-slowest pace, so on the one hand, you’d figure he might struggle here. But the Hawks miss a lot of shots against the Magic (over 60% in the regular season), there’ll be long rebounds aplenty, and their transition D isn’t any good. He’ll get some opportunities in those situations.
The Orlando Magic will be favored to win the series, so how can the Atlanta Hawks pull off the upset? What’s your series prediction?
The Hawks’ best chance will be to get Howard off the floor, forcing the Magic into a more perimeter-oriented attack. And it’d open up their offense, too. Marcin Gortat‘s solid on D, as you know, but I think Horford can take him in the post, for instance.
It would take, in addition to that, one of their perimeter scorers stepping up. Joe Johnson hasn’t played well against Orlando this year. He’d have to go nova. Like, consistent 30-point outings, because I don’t see Atlanta’s defense really clamping down against the Magic. Crawford is capable of doing that as well.
I’ll add that Bibby could be a key contributor here. If he’s knocking down the open threes Johnson and Jamal Crawford create for him, the Hawks are quite dangerous.
The trend here? They’re all backcourt players, and there’s a reason for that. Smith and Marvin Williams, the starting forwards, aren’t guys you run plays for. Horford’s not a good bet to score in the post against Howard, though he has a wonderful jumper out to about 19 feet that can pull him away from the bucket. You aren’t asking Zaza Pachulia to do anything other than set screens and rebound. Any offense you get from them is gravy. No, Atlanta’s a perimeter-oriented team. Its guys will all have to be dialed in for them to have a chance.
Magic in 5.
I like to thank Ben for taking the time to answer my questions.