The Atlanta Hawks' success against the Orlando Magic this season can be summed up with two words: Jason Collins.
Part of the reason the Hawks had such a difficult time last season with the Magic was that, try as they might, they could not contain former Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy star Dwight Howard in last year's playoffs. The matchup with Al Horford -- who is truly more of a power forward than a true center -- was a mismatch.
Howard dominated the smaller Atlanta lineup as the Magic coasted to an easy four-game sweep by an average of 25.3 points.
However, things haven't been as easy for Howard and his Orlando team this season. The main reason why is a guy who played just six minutes on the court in last year's playoff debacle.
The 7-foot Collins has been just plain relentless fronting and frustrating the 6-foot-11 Howard. The results showed. Howard averaged a season-low 43-percent shooting percentage from the field against Atlanta. He also averaged 4.8 fouls per game.
With the offense flowing through folks other than Howard, the Hawks managed to win the season series against the Magic by a margin of 3-1. That gives Atlanta confidence going into this year's playoffs.
Collins, who missed Atlanta's last four games with an ankle injury, practiced with the team on Thursday and Friday and will start when the curtain comes down on the postseason on Saturday night in the city made famous by Mickey Mouse.
That will allow Horford to slide over to the power forward and Josh Smith over to the three, which will create some matchup issues for the Magic. Marvin Williams, who starts in Atlanta's "small" lineup will come off of the bench.
Look for Collins to pester Howard, foul him a bit and send him to the free throw line. When Collins is out, Zaza Pachulia and Al Horford will be asked to throw down the gauntlet.
The mission for the Hawks is simple: slow down Howard. If Atlanta can do so, they may even surprise an expert or two and take home a series win.