Joe Johnson Is Threat No. 1 for Magic
The Hawks beat the Milwaukee Bucks Sunday afternoon in Game 7 of their opening round series, making the target of the Magic's preparations clear.
They will blanket Joe Johnson.
"He is the one who makes them go. If we slow him down, we'll be able to win,'' said Magic forward Matt Barnes, who will start shadowing Johnson at the opening tip. "We saw what Milwaukee did to him. You take notes. We'll be well prepared. You put a lot of pressure on him, make him turn the ball over and take tough shots. I'm not going to guarantee anything, but that's my job, to slow him down. We'll be ready for him.''
Johnson, who played in his fourth All-Star Game this season, averaged a team-high 21.3 points this season and 22.5 points during the opening series. The Magic, though, held him to just 16.3 points and 38 percent shooting in their four regular season meetings. They know what it takes.
They know how to beat Atlanta, pounding the Hawks 93-76, 113-81 and 104-86, before losing the finale 86-84 in Atlanta.
Even more than the Hawks, the Magic will be fighting the rust that comes from not playing for so many days. They will be well rested, but rusty after an eight-day layoff when they open this series Tuesday in Orlando. The Magic haven't played since finishing their sweep against the Charlotte Bobcats last Monday.
"It felt like we've been out fishing,'' said Magic center Dwight Howard, the key to their playoff hopes. "We're going to be out of rhythm because we haven't been playing, but we know what we have to do. We have to keep Joe Johnson out of the lane so he can't create for others.''
Howard, who is from Atlanta, has played well against the Hawks since coming into the league. He averaged 21 points, 16.8 rebounds and 3.5 blocked shots in four games against them this year. He may have struggled with foul trouble against the Bobcats, who used three different centers to wrestle him around the basket, but he doesn't expect the same kind of treatment from the Hawks, who need center Al Horford in the game, too.
Not only have the Magic dominated the Hawks this season, but they did it last season, too. The Magic have won six of the last seven meetings.
The Magic also are expecting the Hawks to utilize Johnson's defensive skills by switching him on point guard Jameer Nelson, who had a big opening round series. The Magic also expressed some concern over Mickael Pietrus -- backup to Barnes -- who re-injured his troublesome ankle during Sunday's practice.
"We're just excited and ready to go again," Howard said. "It seems like we've been away for a long time.''