NBA: Hawks-Magic Preview Capsule
By BRIAN MAHONEY
AP Basketball Writer
A look at the Eastern Conference semifinal series between the Orlando Magic and Atlanta Hawks, which begins Tuesday (with regular season and playoff records):
No. 2 ORLANDO MAGIC (59-23, 4-0) vs. No. 3 ATLANTA HAWKS (53-29, 4-3).
Season series: Magic, 3-1. Atlanta pulled out an 86-84 victory on March 24 in one of the most thrilling finishes of the NBA season, when Josh Smith just beat the buzzer with a follow dunk of Joe Johnson's missed shot. It was all Magic before that, winning the first three meetings by an average of 22.3 points. The Hawks shot under 40 percent in all three losses and barely cracked that mark in their victory, finishing at 40.8 percent. The 86 points were the Hawks' high for the series.
Storyline: The Southeast Division rivals took far different routes to the second round. The well-rested Magic had the lone sweep of the first round and last played on April 26, while the Hawks were the only team that was forced to the limit, finally finishing off the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 7 on Sunday.
Key Matchup 1: Dwight Howard vs. Al Horford. Howard was frustrated by constant foul trouble throughout the first-round victory over Charlotte, but seeing his hometown team could brighten his mood. He had some massive performances against the Hawks in the regular season, going for 31 points and 19 rebounds in one win, 22 and 17 in another before finishing with 19 points and 24 boards in Atlanta's lone victory. Horford had two decent outings against his fellow All-Star, but was held to four points or fewer twice.
Key Matchup II: Jameer Nelson vs. Mike Bibby. Nelson helped make up for Howard's lack of productivity by averaging 23.8 points in the first round. The Hawks need Bibby, their most veteran postseason performer, to be consistent. He scored 13.5 points per game in their four first-round wins but only 7.7 in the three losses.
X-Factor: The benches. Atlanta has the league's top sixth man in Jamal Crawford, but Orlando might have the deepest bench in the league. That allowed the Magic to beat the Hawks in the regular season even while missing Nelson in one game and Vince Carter in another. Crawford shot the ball terribly against Orlando, with a pair of 4-for-14 nights and another 4-for-13. If he struggles like that he'll shoot the Hawks right out of the series.
Prediction: Magic in 6.