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Magic's meltdown is Sixers' gain, more impressions from the playoffs

Observations and analysis from Sunday's NBA playoff action ...

• So this is what a meltdown looks like. The Magic are apparently intent to circle the entire bowl, cashing out of the regular season a couple weeks early and then going straight into the Sunday face plant of blowing an 18-point lead (RECAP | BOX) at home to an opponent that had been even worse.

That's what makes it about more than just Game 1. Orlando lost four of six in the playoff run-up, beating only the Grizzlies and Bobcats, and now it had a heartless fourth quarter without anything close to postseason intensity. It's not giving up because players would first need to unclamp their hands from their throats, but it is a bad sign about the drive and focus of a team once thought to be positioned for a long playoff ride.

• Conversely: Prideful, determined effort by the 76ers. Given little chance to advance, living down to expectations by falling behind big in the opener, only to push forward with that fourth quarter. If it becomes the first step in a series victory, you just watched a short stretch of basketball that changes the mood of an entire franchise.

• Wednesday night in Orlando is bigger than any other Game 2. Maybe Portland seeking revenge on Houston, because of the way the Blazers got taken apart at home, but that's a 4-5 matchup and everyone knew the Rockets had talent and the Blazers had youth. This is a 3-6 that shouldn't be close and will instead offer the intrigue of a look inside the Magic's heart. Or proof that there isn't one.

• Recovering in the series is still possible. Very possible. The 76ers had six losses in the previous seven games, can't shoot free throws, can't shoot threes and are average on defense.

• The Magic shot 48.7 percent (37-of-76). But take away Dwight Howard's 11-of-13 and Orlando was at 26-of-63 (41.3 percent).

• He's never been known as a great shooter. That's the craziness about Game 1 in Denver. A leader, an All-Star ball handler, a clutch playoff performer, a class act off the court while we're at it. But not the kind of rocket-launcher who would change the dynamics of a series by hitting eight of nine three-pointers.

This is Chauncey Billups' season, though, and he air-mailed the Nuggets past the Hornets on Sunday just as he helped move Denver from dysfunctional underachiever to No. 2 in the West after being traded from Detroit to his hometown team. He was impressive in the regular season and great in the first-round opener, tossing a tremendous burden on the shoulders of his opposite, Chris Paul.

Paul has been great for about two seasons, the best point guard in the game, but New Orleans is doomed if he does not win the position matchup. The Hornets have too many holes, so if their biggest star gets lit up, it's all over in what has already been a letdown 2008-09. Paul can't even afford to play Billups to a draw.

Paul has had playoff showdowns with All-Stars before, only never like this. Paul-Jason Kidd last spring was a heady matchup for a playoff debut, but New Orleans was favored. Paul-Tony Parker in the second round was another duel for the marquee, except that the Hornets had Tyson Chandler and David West to throw at Tim Duncan and Peja Stojakovic in a good rhythm.

Not so this time. The Nuggets had the better regular-season record and the Hornets had issues. Now they have another: Chauncey Billups.

• I almost picked Chris Andersen as my breakout star in the SI.com playoff predictions, before choosing Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge. Anderson can be a difference-maker on energy, a huge asset for the Nuggets.

The Game 1 reminder: six rebounds and four blocks in 23 minutes. Not glitzy numbers that get headlines, and certainly not the impact that will stand out in a dominating team performance where six and four seems like scraps. But for bursts in a close game, then you're looking at potential difference-maker.

• Power forward West and center Chandler: 11 rebounds combined. Nuggets center Nene: 14 rebounds.

• The Hornets can't play freestyle and need to reclaim the pace to have a chance in Game 2 and beyond. They want to grind it out, and having 113 dropped on you definitely is not that. Time for a teetering veteran team to prove it can still assert itself.

• This isn't the coming-out party of the Hawks of the 2008 playoffs. It can't be. They were unproven and unknown a year ago, just before nearly changing history by pushing the Celtics to a Game 7 in the opening round.

But there was still a shining announcement off the '09 postseason opener. The Hawks -- this time the proven Hawks of 47 wins, the Hawks of home-court advantage -- went from 21st in the league in shooting defense last season to 10th and from 15th in scoring defense to 10th and used the spotlight Sunday (RECAP | BOX) to show off the improvements.

The worst scoring output in Miami playoff history is the headline for anyone who waits for the postseason to pay serious attention, or for anyone who dismisses the Hawks on reflex. That's probably still common. Just not as much after 64 points by the Heat and 19 by Dwyane Wade on 8-of-21 shooting.

• Either Wade carries Miami or it becomes a very quick series. That's not good for the Heat and it's certainly not good for D-Wade, but it is the truth. He averaged 30.2 points during the regular season and no teammate broke 14.

The Hawks threw a lot of athleticism and some size at him. That will happen again. Even if Wade responds in Game 2, the Heat will still lack the dependable second scoring weapon needed to keep Miami in the series.

• The complete disintegration of the Miami offense: 36.6 percent from the field, 19 turnovers, five offensive rebounds. The Hawks controlled every facet.

• Was that crowd noise or the sound of a cash register ringing?Hawks guard Mike Bibby, about to become a free agent and already known as a clutch performer from his past playoff successes, opened with 10 points, nine assists against three turnovers, two steals and even two blocks in 32 minutes.

Mark Jackson had it right on ABC. The Jazz should start Paul Millsap instead of Jarron Collins in Game 2 if a strained hamstring keeps Mehmet Okur out again.The obvious drawback is that Utah would be going smaller, and that's not a good plan in a matchup against Lakers 7-footers Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. But the Jazz got rolled early in Game 1 (RECAP | BOX) and could use Millsap's energy to avoid a similar fate Tuesday, going from the 6-11 Collins to the 6-8 Millsap or not. The choice between Millsap in a very encouraging season and Collins most any time is an easy call, even with the height difference.Bottom line: How can Jerry Sloan not be considering a shock treatment? His team staggered to the end of the regular season, reached this series as heavy underdogs, then needed a credible second half just to lose by 13.• Sixty-two points in the first half and the Lakers' offense wasn't close to maxing out, with the starting point guard, Derek Fisher, in early foul trouble and the usual backup, Jordan Farmar, bothered by tendinitis in his right foot. Taking advantage of the opportunity, guard Shannon Brown played 22 minutes and made all three three-pointers. One aspect to compensate for limited contributions from Fisher and Farmar: Kobe Bryant had four assists before he took his first shot.• Make that: 113 points in the game and the Lakers' offense wasn't close to maxing out. They had 17 turnovers and still cruised most of the day.• The lineup shift Sloan did make -- Kyle Korver in as the starting small forward to add a shooter as compensation for losing Okur's perimeter game -- brought no return. Korver had more fouls (three) than baskets (two) in 33 minutes.Good luck to any role player counted on to generate extra offense against the Lakers wings. Bryant and Trevor Ariza defend.• Sloan, ever the realist, before the series started called Utah's chances bleak. And then this. Smart man. Honest man. The rah-rah stuff will have to come from the thundering crowd when the Jazz get home for Game 3.

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