Magic look to be most favorable foe for Hawks in playoffs

Horford, meanwhile, is holding out hope he can return for the postseason but understands Drew's approach.

“I don't want to keep the guys [wondering], ‘Oh he's going to come back?' " Horford said. "I think if I'm back it would be a great addition. I'm not going to be full strength but at least I would be able to help them.”

Perhaps the Hawks (37-14) won't need Horford's help if they draw Orlando (32-21) or Indiana (31-21) in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

A statistical breakdown of Atlanta's games against its potential playoff foes this season indicates the Hawks have fared best against the Magic and Pacers. All of the other teams currently in position for one of the eight playoff berths appear to be problematic matchups of varying degrees for Atlanta.

With 12 games left in the lockout-truncated season, the Hawks are sixth in the East and would face Orlando if the playoffs started today. The Magic once dominated the Hawks, including an NBA-record sweep of 101 points in the 2010 East semifinals, but Atlanta has reversed the trend.

The Hawks defeated Orlando four games to two in the first round of last season's playoffs and they've won both games against Orlando this season. The Magic shape up as Atlanta's most favorable potential opponent in an analysis that includes record, offensive and defensive efficiency (points scored and allowed per possession) and average scoring margin.

The Hawks defeated Orlando in both games this season in much the same way as they did in the playoffs last year: smothering defense. Among the Magic's potential playoff opponents, they've struggled the most by far to score against Atlanta.

In last year's playoffs, the Hawks defended Magic center Dwight Howard with Jason Collins while his teammates concentrated on guarding the perimeter. Atlanta has been successful with the same strategy this season using Collins or Zaza Pachulia as the defender against Howard.

The Hawks also have fared well against the Pacers, who are in fifth place in the East. Atlanta won two of the three meetings, with the defeat in the first meeting coming after Horford left the game in the first quarter because of his injury.

The Hawks' scoring efficiency against Indiana is better than league average. The Pacers are the only potential opponent for which they can make that claim.

The Sixers (29-23) appear to be the worst matchup for Atlanta. That's true even when including conference leaders Chicago (42-12 before playing Houston Monday night) and Miami (37-14).

The Hawks at least have shown some ability to defend the Bulls and Heat. They haven't done so against Philadelphia (29-23), which has scored more points per possession against the Hawks than any of their other potential postseason adversaries.

Atlanta has the opposite problem against Boston (30-22), which stands fourth in the East. The teams have met just once this season, with the Celtics winning 79-76 recently at Philips Arena, but Atlanta's struggles to score against Boston are the same they've had against other top defensive teams.

The Hawks are 1-3 against both the Bulls and Heat. If the playoffs started now and the Hawks got past Orlando in the first round, they likely would face Miami in the semifinals.

The Hawks have defended the Bulls relatively well and so might fare better against Chicago than Miami. However, Chicago's 98-77 victory at Philips Arena last week without reigning MVP Derrick Rose hurt the case that Atlanta can defend the Bulls any better than its slowed Miami.

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