Better second round matchup for Bulls: Hawks or Magic?

The Indiana Pacers gave the Bulls plenty of fight -- literally and figuratively -- in Games 1 through
4, but in Game 5, the Bulls played how most thought they would from the
beginning: Dominant.

Led by Derrick Rose's game-high 25 points,
the Bulls had six players in double-figures as they proved too much for
the pesky Pacers in a 116-89 rout at the United Center.

Next up:
Round two. The Bulls will play the winner of the 4-5 matchup between
the Orlando Magic and Atlanta Hawks. 

However, the question is: Who would the Bulls rather play? Let's take a look. The Magic, who went 52-30 in the regular season, were a very streaky
team during the regular season, and as usual, relied heavily on their
three-point shooting. Whenever a team has Dwight Howard, you have to be
scared. He's a force on both ends, certainly possessing the ability to
prevent Bulls star Derrick Rose from doing what he likes to do: Get to
the rim. 

Besides Howard, the Magic don't good
individual defenders, but thanks to Howard's presence in the paint, they
were fourth in opponents points and field-goal percentage allowed
during the regular season. Because of the mid-January trade made by GM
Otis Smith, the Magic lack size up front, starting 6-foot-8 Brandon Bass
at power forward. In year's past, that position was manned by Rashard
Lewis, who has a good two inches on Bass.

As the saying goes, you
don't live by three-pointers, you die by them. The Magic led the NBA in
three-pointers attempted during the regular season with just under 26
and have continued that in the playoffs, attempting over 24 per game.
The difference, however, is that they're simply not hitting their
three's.

Shooting comes and goes: Through five playoff games, the
Magic are shooting 26 percent of their three-pointers, which is by far
the worst among all playoff teams. The Magic, truly, live and die by the
three. And that's becoming an easier thing to stop.

The Bulls
seemed like the first ones to try it, as more teams are using a similar
strategy: Let Howard get his points; contain the rest of the Magic. It's
a strategy that's been very successful earlier this season.

Dwight Howard.jpg

Photo from Yahoo! Sports

In
late January, the Bulls defeated the Magic 99-90 at the United Center,
but don't blame Howard, who scored a game-high and season-high 40
points. Other teams have used a similar technique against the Magic, and
it's worked. Behind Howard, the Magic have two other players who can
create -- to a degree -- a shot for themselves in Jameer Nelson and
Jason Richardson.

However, neither pose much of a threat, and the Magic are still waiting for the old Hedo Turkoglu to show up.

Don't count on it.

The
Magic have several flaws, and can be contained as long as the
supporting cast is held in check, however, they have one thing over the
Hawks: Dwight Howard.

The Hawks are heavy on isolation plays, and
the Bulls exposed them in the regular season, winning two of three
against Atlanta. The lone loss against the Hawks came by three points in
Atlanta on March 2, a game in which the Bulls led by as much as 19
points. It was a disappointing loss, however, the Bulls came right back,
winning the next two on March 11 and 22 by 18 points and 33.

It
would be an absolute blessing for the Bulls to land the Hawks, who won
44 games in the regular season and lost their last six games.

The
Hawks and Magic have plenty of flaws. It's been tough to watch these
two teams play in the playoffs, as neither team plays smart basketball.
The Hawks' reckless basketball plays right into the hands of the Bulls;
the Bulls want teams to shoot jumpers. The Hawks do just that, as they
don't have anyone to really dump the ball to in the post; although Al
Horford had 31 points against the Bulls in a Hawks win. That didn't
happen again, though: The next two games against the Bulls, Horford
scored a combined 20 points.

The Magic scare teams for three
reasons: Howard, three-point shooting and defense. They've been getting
the former and latter, but the three-point shooting hasn't been there in
the playoffs. If they get it going, the Magic can beat any team in the
NBA -- that's what rode them to the 2009 NBA Finals, in fact.   

The
Hawks lead the series 3-2 over the Magic, as the two teams resume play
Thursday in Atlanta. Expect the Hawks to close things out against the
Magic, however, after the Magic won 101-76 in Orlando, it wouldn't be
surprising if they won Game 6 to send things back to Orlando.

The
Bulls shouldn't have much trouble beating either team, especially if
they play with the focus displayed in Game 5 against the Indiana Pacers.
Still, the Magic could become problematic for the Bulls if they get
their three-point shooting going. With Howard, they have a shot at any
series.

The Bulls will certainly tune into the game as they rest
for Monday, the scheduled day for Game 1 of the second round. Will they
be cheering for the Hawks, though?

Probably, because a second round date with Dwight Howard isn't too appealing for the Bulls.

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