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May 11, 2010
Playoff Prospectus

by Bradford Doolittle


Orlando 98, at Atlanta 84 (Magic win series 4-0)
Pace: 86.0
Offensive Ratings: Magic 114.0, Hawks 97.7

This is a note I made during the Lakers game on Monday, but it applies just as much to the Magic: You know a team's defense is good when makes good offensive teams do that which they typically avoid. So it was for Orlando in its dominant second-round sweep of Atlanta. How dominant? According to the announcers on TNT, the Magic's +101 point differential in the series' four games made this the most lopsided four-game playoff matchup in NBA history.

Let's not forget that the Hawks were an outstanding offensive team during the regular season. Atlanta posted a 114.1 Offensive Rating, good for fourth in the NBA. Here's how they fared against the Magic:

        REG  ORLr  ORLp
PACE   88.1  87.5  83.2
OFFe  114.1  94.0  98.5
eFG%   .506  .436  .401
FT/FGA .213  .156  .246
oREB%  .282  .157  .246
TO%    .129  .135  .111
TCH    5.02  4.30  3.92
ORLr: vs. Orlando in reg. season;
ORLp: vs. Orlando in playoffs.

The Hawks were more than 20 points worse per 100 possessions against Orlando in the four games the teams played during the regular season. They managed to cut 4-1/2 points off that shortfall in the playoffs, but the Hawks never figured out how to put points up on Orlando this year, the primary reason they lost seven of eight to the Magic. (In the postseason, it didn't help that they allowed 1.3 points per possession, but we digress ...)

If I'm a Hawks fan, I'm frustrated by two things. First of all, I didn't get the feeling that Atlanta was expending maximum energy in this series. That's not to say the Hawks were dogging it. When a team's offense isn't functioning, it makes a team look lethargic and flat-footed. However, we saw too many instances of Josh Smith walking up the floor, leaving the Hawks at a disadvantage against Orlando's secondary fast break. We also saw Atlanta slow on close-outs against Orlando's bevy of three-point bombers. Smith was the worst offender here, too, as he just seemed to lose track of Rashard Lewis. Those are the kinds of things that are inexcusable.

The other thing that has to grate on Atlanta fans was the inability of Hawks coach Mike Woodson to make adjustments. His is an athletic team, with lots of young legs. Why then did Atlanta not attempt to run more? The Hawks had six fastbreak points in their season-ending loss. With the team unable to get to the rim against Orlando's Dwight Howard-led defense, transition might have been the Hawks' best chance to get good looks. The Hawks played at a slow tempo during the regular season and were successful doing that, but how many times do you have to watch your scorers beat their heads against the wall before you try something different?

Why not try a small lineup to attempt to get Howard away from the basket? Smith can play center and while he largely abandoned his perimeter game this year, it's still in his bag of tricks somewhere. If not Smith, Al Horford is also very good operating from the mid-range. Why not play a lineup of Jamal Crawford, Joe Johnson, Mo Evans and Marvin Williams alongside whomever you have at the five? Or go even smaller, with Jeff Teague in the mix as a change of pace? Something. Anything.

In game four, we did see Atlanta's athleticism emerge briefly in the second quarter, when a 5-0 edge in turnovers and a 5-0 edge in offensive rebounds allowed them to get nine more shots than Orlando and, for one period, overcome their shortfall in shooting. And what a shortfall it was--the Magic put up a .677 eFG% in the game, including a .766 mark in the first half. Vince Carter put up 22 points on 12 shots, leading the Magic in both categories. Dwight Howard went 5-of-5 in 42:45 of court time. Mickael Pietrus continued to kill the Hawks with the corner three, hitting four more in Monday's game. (Why leave him open there?) Orlando made 16 more three-points on Monday and took 57 percent of its shots from the floor from beyond the arc.

In the second half, the Hawks' offense deteriorated into an ugly display of one-on-one basketball, as their touches per minute dipped below four for the half and below three in the fourth quarter. The Hawks had 25 shots off isolation in the game and scored .76 points on those shots. The Magic had 24 spot-up shots in the game, scoring 1.25 points per shot, almost all of them on kick-outs or pull-up threes in transition. Orlando was 15-of-20 in the paint. Since we know the Magic was 16-of-37 on threes, that means in the low-percentage zone between the paint and the line, Orlando took just eight shots--two per quarter--and made five. That's how you run an inside-out offense in the modern NBA.

The Magic move on to the conference finals and will have at least a week to rest and prepare for the survivor of the Cleveland-Boston series. Of course, Orlando wore the opposite shoe last season, battling the Celtics to seven games in the conference semis while the Cavaliers rested up after pounding the Hawks in four straight. So you can bet Stan Van Gundy is going to have his squad practicing plenty hard during the layoff. The Cavaliers and Celtics are both terrific teams and they both present certain problems for the Magic. However, no team is playing as well as Orlando, which now should be considered the odds-on favorite to win it all.

As for the Hawks, now comes a summer of uncertainty. Joe Johnson is headed for free-agency and, if he leaves, the Hawks can't afford a comparable player to replace him. The only hope they'd have if Johnson wants to jump ship is a sign-and-trade, though no obvious partner in that scenario leaps to mind. That said, this might be a chance for the Hawks to re-make themselves a little bit. Perhaps there is still room to grow for this team. Jeff Teague has ability and maybe he could supplant Mike Bibby in the starting lineup. Also, Woodson's contract is up and I really can't see him returning to the Hawks. He deserves a lot of credit in helping nurture the team's rise from a 13-69 record a few years ago, but some fresh ideas are sorely needed for this roster. Time to give someone else a shot. That, and Johnson staying, are Atlanta's best hopes for further improvement.

ORL          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  21  158.3  .842  .000  .105  .140  6.88
Second Quarter 20   96.2  .654  .000  .154  .253  4.73
Third Quarter  23   95.0  .571  .000  .429  .259  5.40
Fourth Quarter 19  123.0  .605  .300  .000  .107  4.35
FIRST HALF     41  128.5  .766  .000  .125  .194  5.81
SECOND HALF    42  107.5  .591  .176  .182  .191  4.88
FINAL          83  117.9  .677  .120  .154  .193  5.34
ATL          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  21  107.1  .647  .000  .059  .186  5.33
Second Quarter 20  111.4  .318  .385  .364  .000  5.01
Third Quarter  23   90.7  .325  .125  .400  .043  3.95
Fourth Quarter 19   96.3  .467  .143  .267  .160  2.99
FIRST HALF     41  109.1  .462  .263  .231  .097  5.17
SECOND HALF    42   93.2  .386  .176  .343  .096  3.48
FINAL          83  101.1  .426  .190  .284  .096  4.32

L.A. Lakers 111, at Utah 96 (Lakers win series 4-0)
Pace: 93.0
Offensive Ratings: Lakers 119.4, Jazz 103.2

The lack of a legitimate, basket-protecting, shot-blocking big man has been the biggest hole on the roster of the Utah Jazz in recent seasons. In no other matchup is this void more glaring than against this version of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Every time the Jazz made a run at the Lakers on Monday, down the ball went into the post. The Lakers scored 1.26 points per 23 shots in post-ups situations. As you'd expect, Pau Gasol was a main instigator in that scheme, exploiting his huge length advantage over Utah's Carlos Boozer, but Kobe Bryant also did a great deal of his damage on the blocks. Jazz rookie Westley Matthews gave a game effort in his head-to-head matchup with Bryant and often caused problems by getting his hands on the ball when Bryant faced him up in the perimeter. On the blocks, however, Matthews had no answer. If Utah had Mark Eaton back there to erase those kinds of shots, it might have been in business. Alas.

Bryant and Gasol combined for 65 points in the Lakers' series-clinching win. Gasol had 33 points on 25 possessions, while Boozer managed just 10 points on 16 possessions. As good as Deron Williams is--and he wasn't at his best on Monday--that's too much of a mismatch to overcome.

Utah was at its most efficient in transition in both the series and in game four, but didn't get enough shots to really exploit that advantage. The Jazz outscored the Lakers 19-1 on fastbreak points, but with Gasol (seven offensive rebounds) standing around and tipping in missed shots, and the Lakers getting 36 free-throw attempts, any thoughts Jazz coach Jerry Sloan might have had about a balls-out transition attack went by the wayside.

The Lakers also did a great job of keeping Utah sharpshooter Kyle Korver from getting on a roll. Korver scored two points and didn't get a three-point attempt. He scored 23 points on 10 shots in Utah's heartbreaking game three loss. As a bonus, the Lakers got a big lift off the bench from Shannon Brown, who scored 12 points in 17:31.

Like Atlanta, the Jazz now faces an uncertain offseason, but also one that provides opportunity. Carlos Boozer will be an unrestricted free-agent and will garner a lot of interest around a league starved for interior scoring. Utah has gone as far as it can go with Boozer and the Jazz enjoy the luxury of having a ready-made replacement on the roster in Paul Millsap. In an ideal world, one could see Utah moving Boozer in a sign-and-trade for some length, then adding another piece with the ninth (or so) pick in the draft. Or they can just let Boozer walk and enjoy the luxury tax savings. Either way, the Jazz will have a different cast next year. If the goal is to eventually win a title, it's a shake-up that has to happen. This group has plateaued.

Meanwhile, the Lakers seem well-positioned for a return trip to the Finals. We now have six days until they take on Phoenix in game one of the Western Conference finals.

LAL          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  21  137.1  .543  .400  .174  .047  4.74
Second Quarter 23  127.9  .500  .364  .381  .044  4.03
Third Quarter  24   92.8  .380  .188  .120  .042  3.58
Fourth Quarter 21  146.8  .607  .250 1.000  .142  4.54
FIRST HALF     44  132.3  .523  .381  .273  .046  4.38
SECOND HALF    45  118.2  .462  .208  .436  .089  4.06
FINAL          89  125.2  .494  .289  .349  .068  4.22
UTA          Pace  oRTG  eFG%  oREB% FT/FGA  TO%  TCHS
First Quarter  21  113.4  .500  .273  .091  .095  4.67
Second Quarter 23   75.0  .313  .222  .438  .265  4.10
Third Quarter  24  109.6  .500  .417  .130  .169  4.50
Fourth Quarter 21  137.3  .575  .300  .300  .047  4.36
FIRST HALF     44   93.5  .421  .250  .237  .183  4.38
SECOND HALF    45  122.7  .535  .296  .209  .112  4.43
FINAL          89  108.3  .481  .310  .222  .147  4.41

Data from My Synergy Sports was used to compile this report..

Follow Bradford on Twitter at @bbdoolittle.

Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.

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