That Jason Collins is the most important player in the Atlanta Hawks' first round challenge against the Orlando Magic tells you all you need to know about this series: it's either going to be a little bit of genius, or it's just going to devolve into laughter. The teams begin their 2011 NBA Playoffs journey in Orlando on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET (ESPN), with two separate skirmishes on their minds.
The first is last year's second round series between the teams. The Magic won 4-0, by a combined 101 points, or an average of 25 points per game. In Game 1 of that series, the Hawks lost by 43. Dwight Howard had 21 points and 12 rebounds in just 28 minutes. Atlanta hardly challenge Orlando in the next three games, and Howard continue his rampage. It was the most embarrassing beating in a series in recent history; it was like the Boston Celtics' Game 6 victory over the L.A. Lakers in 2008, four times in a row.
Mike Woodson, a good coach, lost his job over the series. The Hawks' front office was so shellshocked it convinced itself Jason Collins -- that Jason Collins -- was the antidote for Dwight. Is he? Collins is a defensive specialist, and his post defense can be special, but he's a real minus on offense, and offensive minuses get shredded alive by Howard's own special defense. Is the burdening weight of Collins' bad scoring ability worth his defense?
The Hawks, with Collins, won three of four games against the Magic this season. Howard scored over 20 just once (Orlando's only win), and that was the first meeting between the pair. In the three subsequent games, Collins and Atlanta's other big men held Howard to 15-38 shooting, 39 percent. Dwight Howard, shooting 39 percent. Is he solved?
If so, Jason Collins will be the NBA's new hero, and Howard its laughingstock. That wouldn't be fair; they say defense wins championships, after all, so Howard's own superlative defense -- unneeded against Collins but magical constantly -- should be lauded. But in Dwight's quest to be the league's new most dominant big man, a derail by Collins would be mighty embarrassing.
Will Collins succeed? Tune in to find out at 7 p.m.