The Atlanta Hawks are in an all-too-familiar situation -- nearly double-digit underdogs on their opponent's floor. But if Game 5 goes like the rest of the series has thus far, the Hawks will have no problem covering the spread and pulling off an upset.
The no-respect Hawks hope to soar to a series win when they take on the Orlando Magic at the Amway Center on Tuesday (7:30 p.m., SportSouth, NBA TV, 97.9 FM).
Vegas has installed the Hawks as eight-point underdogs again on the Magic's home court. The public has pushed the number to -7, but the message to Atlanta and their fans is still clear: the bookies still don't believe that the Hawks can pull off a W in the land of Mickey Mouse.
However, this Hawks team has been underestimated throughout the entire series. Not many of the so-called experts gave them a chance against Dwight Howard's team and few thought that the series would go past six games. Nevertheless, Atlanta sits on the precipice of bouncing a team in five games in a best-of-seven game set for the first time since beating the Chicago Bulls in the 1969-1970 Western Division Semifinals.
Don't expect to see much of a deviation from what has worked thus far for Atlanta. Look for them to continue to allow Howard to have as many touches as he wants to, while Jason Collins and Zaza Pachulia pester him as he goes to the post.
Meanwhile, Atlanta will use its size and athleticism to take on Orlando's perimeter shooters.
The strategy has worked in the first four games of the series. The Hawks have figured out the Magic's tricks around the 3-point line. Orlando's game behind the arc went poof and Orlando was transformed from a top 10 NBA three-point threat to the worst 3-point team in the playoffs.
Jamal Crawford has excelled on the other side of the ball, posting 20-plus point games in each of the first four of the series en route to becoming the first player since Kevin McHale to come off the bench and post those kind of numbers.
Crawford has fed off of an active Atlanta offense that hasn't been afraid to go inside-out in the series. The inside-out game has helped the Hawks get open looks around the perimeter.
Hawks fans know that the team is a very good team when it penetrates the paint instead of lazily standing around the perimeter. However, when the team Hawks gets complacent -- like it did when Orlando erased a 16-point deficit in Game 4 -- they lose. Fortunately, we have not seen much of that in this series.
Two players we will see back for Game 5 are Pachulia and Jason Richardson, who will return after sitting a game because of their quasi-NBA-style pseudo fight. (Let's just say, it looked nothing like it had more of a look of a cat fight than something you'd see between Eric Boulton and Shawn Thornton on that other beat that I cover).
Richardson could be the difference in this one. If he can get his game going to compliment Howard, Orlando could hold serve and send this game back to Atlanta. That will make a bunch of Magic fans and the Atlanta Spirit happy, but that's about it.
Game 6* (if necessary) will be played on Thursday up against the NFL Draft at a to-be-determined time at the Highlight Factory. If Atlanta wins, Game 3 of the second round (likely against Chicago) will be here sometime next week.