Orlando or Atlanta? Neither team has been sharp in first round
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The traditional question as the Bulls await their second-round playoff opponent is which team would be a more favorable matchup?
Watching Orlando and Atlanta brick shots and bring questionable effort to the floor in their series, a more relevant question comes to mind: Would either of these teams beat Indiana in Round 1?
The Pacers showed up ready to play against the Bulls. Whether the Hawks or Magic are approaching peak performance is debatable.
Atlanta jumped to a 3-1 series lead, then must have been saving energy for Game 6, because the Hawks were pounded by Orlando 101-76 on Tuesday night.
The Hawks can close out the series at home today, otherwise the teams return to Orlando for Game 7 on Saturday.
Either way, Game 1 of the second round will be Monday at the United Center, followed by Game 2 on Wednesday.
TNT analyst Steve Kerr talked about a potential Bulls-Hawks series during Tuesday's broadcast.
"I think Atlanta could match up with Chicago on the front line," Kerr said. "I'm not sure if they can deal with the Bulls' defense. (The Hawks) take a lot of bad shots and if you take a bad shot against Chicago, Derrick Rose is going to have a dunk on the other end."
Logic suggests the Magic is the more dangerous team because of all-star center Dwight Howard and an array of 3-point shooters. The last thing the Bulls need is another hard foul by Howard against Rose, something that put Rose out of commission twice last season.
Howard has been good against Atlanta, averaging 27.4 points and 15.6 rebounds, while shooting 64.2 percent from the field. He's also at an alarming 5.4 turnovers per game in this series and is always shaky at the free-throw line (67.1 percent vs. the Hawks).
But Orlando hasn't seemed as dangerous since a flurry of trades in December. Instead of matchup nightmare Rashard Lewis, the Magic has an ineffective Gilbert Arenas. There's no inside depth without former backup center Marcin Gortat.
During the first four games of the Atlanta series, Orlando shot a miserable 21.9 percent from 3-point range (21-for-96). The Magic picked it up in Game 5, hitting 11 of 26 shots from behind the arc, so the shooters are capable of a hot streak. Ryan Anderson and J.J. Redick, in particular, snapped out of slumps.
The Bulls went 3-1 against Orlando, suffering their worst loss of the season 107-78 on Dec. 1 at the United Center. The Magic still had its old lineup that night, while Carlos Boozer made his Bulls debut.
The second home game was interesting, as Howard scored 40 points, but the Bulls bottled up the Magic's 3-point shooters and won 99-90. The Bulls pulled off an impressive 89-81 road win in Orlando, then won again on the road while Howard sat out with a suspension.
Atlanta finished the regular season in a long slide, going 11-20 in the last 31 games. In the playoffs, the Hawks have developed some offensive balance and found a hot hand in former Bulls guard Jamal Crawford.
Crawford is shooting 52 percent from 3-point range in the series and averaging 20.8 points. Joe Johnson (17.0 ppg.), Josh Smith (15.6), Al Horford (12.4) and ex-Bull Kirk Hinrich (10.0) are all averaging double figures.
The March 2 game at Atlanta was a something of a turning point for the Bulls. They squandered a big lead (19 points) for one of the few times this season, then regrouped and won at Orlando and Miami over the next four days. Those wins propelled the Bulls to the league's best record.
The other two Bulls-Hawks games were blowouts. The Bulls won 94-76 at the United Center, then built an astonishing 47-point lead in Atlanta on March 22 before winning 114-81.
Rose averaged 25 points against both potential opponents, but he shot a higher percentage against the Magic.
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