If you are an Atlanta Hawks fans the numbers are discouraging. A six-game losing streak to end the season, where your starters have been the problem. Four games where you've watched your team lose by more than 30. And that all comes on the heels of an embarrassing four-game sweep by an average of 25.3 points per game in the playoffs last year against the team you're about to face in the first round.
Neverthless, your Atlanta Hawks can beat the Orlando Magic. Yes, that Orlando team with Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson and Gilbert Arenas. The Magic are indeed beatable, but it's going to take an all-hands-on-deck approach and a commitment to defense to get the job done.
If the Hawks win this one, it's going to be in the trenches.
Throw everything (including the kitchen sink) at Dwight Howard: Atlanta has frustrated Howard in the regular season, holding the former Atlanta Southwest Christian Academy standout to just 43-percent shooting from the field -- Howard's worst performance against any team in the NBA this season. They also have frustrated Howard into foul trouble. And as a result, Atlanta took the season set by a margin of three games to one.
Jason Collins is key here. He must be the first line of defense against the Orlando center. Al Horford --- who will move over to the four in Atlanta's anti-Howard big lineup -- must be the second line of defense in the post and Zaza Pachulia, Josh Powell or whatever other big they post up against Howard must come up huge.
Hack Howard all you need to. He's not a great free throw shooter. Don't let him beat you to the post and don't let him grab 20 boards. If he does, you're in for a long night, Hawks fans.
Don't be lazy: We've seen it again and again from this Hawks team. They stroll down the floor, pass the ball a time or two and jack up the ill-advised jumper. That usually results in an easy rebound for the opposition and an easy bucket in transition.
If Atlanta wants to win this series, they're going to have to take on Howard in the post and attack the bucket. Yes, Howard is a gifted athlete, but contrary to what Joe Johnson says -- the Hawks are not a good jump shooting team. They are most effective when they are going inside-out instead of outside-in.
Josh Smith and Horford are going to have to take the punishment dished out by Howard by going inside and getting to the hoop. The result won't be a pretty game, but Hawks fans would much rather have an ugly 93-90 win than a 117-74 blowout like they did last season in Game One vs. the Magic.
Forget about last year: Let's face it, every team in the playoffs is going to trail by 10 points at some point in the postseason. When this happens to the Hawks, they are simply going to have to forget about their woes against the Magic last season.
They're going to have to put all of those ugly regular season double-digit defeats in the rear view mirror and play fundamental basketball.
That hasn't been easy for the Hawks. When they fall behind, they have a tendency to rely on the outside game and a 10-point deficit soon becomes a 20-point deficit and before you know it, I am writing about another terrible Hawks loss.
The bottom line is that if Atlanta is to win this series, they just need to keep things simple: guard Howard, play defense, attack the paint. If they do that, they'll have a chance to win the series. If not, it'll be another lost season in Atlanta.