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With all the turmoil and confusion in Orlando at this point, a balm for the unsettled fan might be to turn to the postseason. No more griping about drama. No more blame game for defensive lapses and offensive droughts. What’s important is what happens when the playoffs begin. And guess what?
Orlando is going to the playoffs!
Regardless of how good or bad you think this Magic team is, the bigger question about the future is who the Magic will play in the first round?
Right now in the Eastern Conference, Boston, Atlanta, and Orlando are tied at 34-24 in the standings, with the Indiana Pacers ahead of the aforementioned trio by 2 games with a record of 36-22. However, because the Celtics lead the Atlanta Division, they automatically are a top-four seed in the East and currently sit at the No. 4 seed. As for the Hawks, because they will win the season series against the Magic regardless of Friday’s outcome, they hold the tiebreaker advantage if both teams finish with the same record at the end of the regular season. Which means, for the moment, Atlanta and Orlando are the No. 5 and No. 6 seeds respectively.
And make no mistake about it, the difference between facing Atlanta and facing Boston in the first round is profound if the chips fall a certain way for the Magic.
Let’s start with the basics. Boston is a better defensive team than Atlanta. Well, both teams are better defensively than Orlando, so we’ll have to do better than that. How about this — Boston is the second-best defensive team in the league and, in the past 15 games, have been playing defense at a historic rate. The Celtics’ defense is allowing 92.9 points per 100 possessions during that stretch. That’s a pretty big piece to consider, especially since Orlando only scores 104.9 points per 100 possessions (16th in the NBA) and, umm, have struggled to score against Boston this season. It would be ideal to play a team that gives up a few more points.
Look no further. Atlanta allows 101.2 points per 100 possessions defensively, which ranks seventh in the league and makes a matchup with the Hawks far more ideal for the Magic.
I used MySynergySports and broke down some offensive stats for Orlando. The Magic get a good chunk of their offense in pick-and-rolls. No surprise there. The staggering difference for Orlando, as opposed to some other teams, is that they rely on the ball-handler in the pick-and-roll quite a bit. And the interesting thing is that Orlando’s ball-handlers get a good chunk of their three-point looks in pick-and-roll sets, with the shooting percentage from deep being way better (37.9 percent) as opposed to threes generated in isolation (26.3 percent) for instance. So in a half-court set, aside from spotting up from the perimeter, the best option for the triple is typically the pick-and-roll where the ball-handler keeps it and shoots it.
Again, none of this should sound too shocking.
With this in mind, a few things scare me right off the bat about Boston. First, they defend the pick-and-roll very well, holding opponents to 0.81 points per possession (first in the NBA). Second, Orlando has found success in getting the ball-handler in pick-and-rolls a good look from three, yet Boston takes that away. They have only given up 78 three-point attempts while defending that set this year and have limited teams to 25.6 percent shooting from three-point range.
In short, a “bread and butter” set for Orlando takes a big hit when they face Boston. And I hate to say it but when you take away the Magic deep assault, you take a leg out from underneath them.
Atlanta on the other hand? They hold opponents to 0.85 points per possession in pick-and-roll sets — eighth-best in the league. But the key difference? They allow ball-handlers to shoot 40 percent from deep in pick-and-rolls. That’s a stark difference from the lock-down approach that Boston takes.
Another variable is going to be Jameer Nelson’s ability to hit three-pointers or anyone else for that matter. It also will have to do with whether or not Nelson is feeling it from just inside the three-point line. The same goes for J.J. Redick and Hedo Turkoglu, but I’d rather face a team who struggles to defend that pick-and-roll option than a team that eats it alive.
What’s the moral of this story?
If Orlando wants to run pick-and-rolls and let their ball-handlers score out of that option, they would certainly rather face Atlanta than Boston (the best-scenario scenario based on matchups is Indiana, of course). It would give the Magic a better shot at advancing past the first round.
Better that then solely relying on Dwight Howard in the post.