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Hawks' Defense Figures Out Orlando Magic's Offense

The Atlanta Hawks managed to split their first two playoff games against the Orlando Magic at Amway Center, taking Game 1 by a 103-93 final before falling, 88-82, in Game 2. The series shifts to Atlanta for Games 3 and 4 on Friday and Sunday, and while both teams have questions to answer, perhaps none is bigger than how the Magic can score against the Hawks' suddenly stout defense. In eight games against Atlanta last season, counting the playoffs, the Magic averaged 102.9 points per game. However, they've averaged In six games this season, that figure stands at 85.2 points per game.

"They know how to guard us," Magic power forward Ryan Anderson told the Orlando Sentinel. "They have a great game plan coming into these games."

His comments now stand in sharp relief to the ones he made to me following a 113-81 victory against the Hawks in January 2010, in which he scored 16 points in 22 minutes. In that game, Orlando ran heavy side pick-and-roll sets, knowing that, under Mike Woodson's direction, Atlanta would switch the defenders involved in guarding the ballhandler and screener, resulting in its bigs posting up Hawks guards. "That switch really kinda made it be easier to post up smaller guys and get open shots in the post," Anderson told me after the game.

The plan has changed under Larry Drew. The Hawks don't switch nearly as often on screens, and his outright refusal to double-team Dwight Howard inside has enabled Atlanta to stay vigilant on the Magic's outside shooters.

Though the Hawks' core personnel hasn't changed, they have deployed 7-foot center Jason Collins more against Orlando this year than in years past. He's proven to be the difference so far. According to NBA's StatsCube tool, the Magic scored only 66.8 points, pro-rated per 48 minutes, whenever Collins was on the court in the regular season. The difference is more dramatic in these playoffs, where the Hawks have yielded 57.3 points per 48 minutes to Orlando with Collins playing.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.