NBA Playoff Preview: Orlando vs. Atlanta

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SEASON RECORDS
Magic: 52-30 (No. 4 seed)
Hawks: 44-38(No. 5 seed)

SEASON SERIES
Hawks 3-1

KEY INJURIES
Magic: J.J. Redick, missed 16 straight games with an abdomen issue but is expected back for playoffs; Gilbert Arenas’ knees are, well, still Gilbert Arenas’ knees, but more days off in playoffs should help him; Daniel Orton is out for playoffs, but he wasn’t seeing big minutes anyway.
Hawks: Jason Collins missed several games with a sprained ankle, but played a few minutes in season finale and will be a go for this series.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKING (points per 100 possessions)
Magic: Off. 105.7 (10th in NBA); Def. 99.4 (3rd in NBA)
Hawks: Off. 103.7 (20th in NBA); Def. 104.1 (15th in NBA)

THREE KEY MAGIC

Dwight Howard: He’s at the heart of what the Magic do at both ends of the floor — he anchors the defense, he is the post player/pick setter on offense. The Magic offensive plan is simple — let Howard get his, then when the other team doubles start passing out of it and hit threes. That doesn’t work if you can single-cover Howard. He struggled some this season against Jason Collins, but with time to prepare it may be different. Howard has the tools to blow Collins out of the map, the question in how long does it take him to figure it out and start doing it.

Ryan Anderson: Another guy who will be key at both ends — he is going to get a fair amount of time on Al Horford (Howard and Bass also will get time on him). Horford is the best Hawks player this season, he must be slowed. Also, Anderson’s ability to step out and hit threes (hitting 41.1 percent in last 10 games) will pull Atlanta bigs away from the basket, giving Howard and/or Bass more room to grab offensive boards.

Gilbert Arenas: Atlanta should get bench points out of Jamal Crawford. Should. But it will be up Arenas to match that with some points of his own and getting the second unit going. But the real key is for Arneas to do that in the flow of the offense — when he breaks out and starts jacking up shots in isolation the Magic offense will sputter and open the door to the Hawks.

THREE KEY HAWKS

Jason Collins: He is the X-factor in this series. During the regular season he was able to single cover Howard and that allowed the other Hawks defenders to stay home on the Magic’s many shooters. To do it for a total of 93 minutes in four regular season games is one thing, can he keep that up during a seven-game series? If so the Hawks have a chance.

Jamal Crawford: Put simply, Atlanta need scoring off the bench so they need Crawford. They really need last-season’s Crawford, who operated out of isolation sets and simple pin-downs to get him free. This season Larry Drew made the Hawks offense more complex and Crawford has been one of the guys struggling to adjust. They need him now.

Josh Smith: He is not a good jump shooter (39 percent on long twos, taking 4.3 per game), but he takes them anyway and it kills the Hawks offense. If he does that in this series Howard will grab the board and the Magic will be off and running. Also, there are reports he is the locker room malcontent and the Hawks will need everyone on the same page.

OUTLOOK

With Jason Collins, the Hawks think they have some who can single-handedly match up with Howard, and that is why they think they have a chance. But can you really see Dwight Howard getting stopped for long by a Collins twin? Look for the Magic to run some on the Hawks (a bad transition defensive team anyway) and in doing so get Howard some early deep position. And they will try to get fouls on Collins.

The Hawks are basically the same team that the Magic swept out of the playoffs last season. New coach, they have Collins and Hinrich, but things are not that different. The Magic have come back to the pack a little, but they are still a 50-win team with a dominant player.

PREDICTION

It’s not going to be a sweep like a year ago, but it will be pretty close.

Magic in 5.

Judge grills Suge Knight – facing murder charge – on NBA-champion pick (Rockets)

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Suge Knight is facing a murder, threat and robbery charges in three separate cases.

The former rap mogul was in court yesterday to set a trial date for the murder charge.

Marisa Gerber of the Los Angeles Times:

A few minutes later, during a separate hearing in the criminal threats proceeding, another judge asked Knight to return to his courtroom in May. The judge then turned to Knight, asking who he thought would win the NBA playoffs.

“At this time…” Knight said, before the judge cut him off, saying he wanted a once-and-for-all answer.

“Houston,” Knight responded.

“Alright, Houston. Good pick,” the judge said.

Knight smiled.

What?

Milwaukee taco restaurant releases security footage showing manager greeting Giannis Antetokounmpo

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Shortly after Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks to a Game 4 win over the Celtics on Sunday, someone eating at a Milwaukee taco restaurant tweeted a photo of the Greek Freak waiting for a table. According to the tweeter, nobody helped Antetokounmpo at all.

The picture went viral.

But!

The restaurant claims a manager greeted Antetokounmpo and released surveillance footage to prove it:

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“We appreciate everyone’s passion for treating Giannis and all customers with great customer service,” Monday’s follow-up read. “It is something we strive to do every day. We reviewed the entryway footage from last night, and we are proud to reaffirm that Giannis was promptly greeted by our manager and told the wait time. Giannis has been a customer many times and he has graciously accepted our apology for not being able to seat him and other customers more quickly last night.  Our focus is now on supporting our team on this playoff run. Go Bucks.”

The release concluded with the hashtag #TacoBoutAMisunderstanding.

TacoBoutAMisunderstanding, indeed.

For his part, Antetokounmpo never griped publicly about the taco restaurant. The wait was longer then he wanted so he went elsewhere.

He has more important issues to focus on – like Game 5 in Boston tonight.

Kevin Durant: Liking anti-Russell Westbrook Instagram comment was ‘total accident’

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Kevin Durant liked an Instagram comment critical of Russell Westbrook.

Here we go again?

Royce Young of ESPN:

I’m not inside Durant’s mind. He could be lying to cover another burner Instagram snafu.

But I tend to believe him. It’s easy enough to accidentally click like, and the greater context is on his side.

Durant has always tried to downplay a feud with Westbrook. Even at the personal rivalry’s peak, Durant just seemed as if he wanted Westbrook to like him. So, it’s nearly impossible to believe Durant – even for a button-pushing moment – wanted to publicly slight Westbrook.

But maybe Durant wanted quiresultan or some other alter-ego to do so? Maybe, as beaten down as he looked by the controversy over those deleted tweets last summer, Durant didn’t learn his lesson and still uses burner accounts. I certainly wouldn’t rule that out.

Again, though, this would be a weird message. Last summer’s deleted tweets praised Westbrook while slamming the rest of the Thunder. Durant was going to have a burner account take the opposite stance now? That doesn’t really add up.

NBA apparently reviewing whether Russell Westbrook should be suspended for Thunder-Jazz Game 5

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The NBA has a hard rule during altercations: Any players who leave the bench area receives a one-game suspension. Intent doesn’t matter. It’s not negotiable. The league simply doesn’t want more players entering a fracas.

Russell Westbrook found a gray area last night.

The Thunder star was waiting to check into Oklahoma City’s Game 4 loss to the Jazz when Raymond Felton fouled Rudy Gobert, um, unpleasantly. Gobert and Felton got into it, though not immediately. Once they did, Westbrook walked onto the court, and he and Gobert swiped at each other.

Gobert and Felton eventually received technical fouls. But could harsher punishment be in store, especially for Westbrook?

Andy Larsen of KSL.com:

A pool reporter request to the game officials to ask them about the play was initiated, but the NBA indicated that the officials wouldn’t comment on the matter because it would be reviewed by the league’s disciplinary committee.

The key question should be: Did a referee already beckon Westbrook into the game? If one did, Westbrook shouldn’t be suspended. If none did, Westbrook should be suspended.

The league will talk to the refs and get a better understanding of what happened. Their account matters most.

But one indicator working against Westbrook: Steven Adamswhose toughness is beyond reproach – was also waiting to check in and stayed on the sideline. If Adams had already entered the game, wouldn’t he have gotten involved? Maybe not, but his hanging back is circumstantial evidence pointing toward a Westbrook suspension.

Again, though, the referees’ accounts matter far more.