The Orlando Magic are the No. 4 seed in the East bracket of the 2011 NBA Playoffs, and they will face the No. 5 seed Atlanta Hawks in the first round in a rematch of the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals. Orlando swept the Hawks in that series, winning the four games by an average of over 25 points per game. Both teams have gotten worse this season despite adding current and future payroll, which makes this series about as much of a snoozer on paper as any 4-5 matchup could be. Then again, anything can happen in the playoffs, and that's why they play the games. Insert cliche here.
Believe it or not, yes. The Hawks took three of the four games against the Magic during the regular season, with the only loss coming by four points in Orlando back on November 8. The Hawks have held Dwight Howard to just 43 percent shooting in the four games, his lowest field goal percentage against any team this season. All thanks for that goes to Jason Collins, the aging defensive center who really is only useful against Orlando. That said, the Magic didn't have starting point guard Jameer Nelson for one of the games, and another loss came in their first game after they made the massive December trades for Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Gilbert Arenas.
Both teams are capped out, fading from relevancy and lacking any semblance of young talent, so there's probably a better chance someone already anointed gets torn down instead. Howard, if he continues to struggle against Collins, and Joe Johnson are prime candidates to be torn down if they do not play well. But if there is anyone who will see themselves elevated in this series, it could be Atlanta's Al Horford, who has quietly had his best season as a pro. Horford will be freed from having to guard Howard, so he could have a field day against Brandon Bass and Ryan Anderson, neither of whom are strong defenders.
HINTS FOR THE FUTURE
The Chicago Bulls are very likely to face the winner of this series, and will probably be favored to beat either of these teams. If it's Orlando that wins, the series will pit likely MVP Derrick Rose against his top challenger in Howard. That's as obvious a storyline as any we'll see in the playoffs this season. If Atlanta wins, then it's Rose and the Bulls trying to follow up its most recent beatdown of the Hawks. After Atlanta shocked the Bulls back on March 2, the Bulls got revenge by dismantling the Bulls by 33 points in Atlanta on national TV on March 22, in a game the Bulls led 72-43 at halftime. If you're not excited about this, you're not alone.
MAINSTREAM MEME ALERT
If Howard continues to struggle against Collins, get ready for all the Howard bashers to come out in full force wondering how the dorky stat nerds could possibly vote for him to be the MVP of the league. This will only get worse when Rose inevitably dominates the Indiana Pacers. There's also the possibility that people will continue to laugh at the Hawks for giving Johnson his huge contract, but that meme was so last year.
Magic in 6. Howard won't play well, the Hawks will play worse, Johnson will shoot 33 percent from the field and we'll leave wondering how it is possible for one team to be involved in the worst first-round series of the NBA Playoffs in each of the past three years.
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