Denton: Magic-Hawks Postgame Analysis

By John Denton
March 30, 2011


ATLANTA – In a game that was never separated by more than eight points and ended with Atlanta edging Orlando 85-82, the Hawks exited Philips Arena on Wednesday talking of a statement victory, while the Magic promised the outcome would have no bearing on their playoff confidence.

The Magic and Hawks will almost certainly meet in the first round of the playoffs in 2 ½ weeks, and an Atlanta team that formerly put up little fight against the Magic will hit the postseason with a 3-1 regular-season edge against Orlando.

But Magic superstar center Dwight Howard, who suffered through a rare poor performance on Wednesday, promised things would be different when the teams meet again in mid-April. Possibly still fresh in Howard’s mind – Orlando’s 101-point whitewashing of Atlanta in last spring’s four-game playoff sweep.

``We’ll be a different team in the playoffs,’’ said Howard, who had 17 points and 13 rebounds. ``It’s a different animal in the playoffs. We’re not worried about it and we’re going to play. We’ll be healthy and well-rested and it’ll be a different animal in the playoffs.’’

Reduced to just eight primary players because of injuries, the Magic (47-28) lost when Joe Johnson made a tiebreaking runner in the lane with 55 seconds to play. Orlando got a good look on Jameer Nelson’s drive with 38 seconds to play, and had to settle for a Hedo Turkoglu 3-point heave at the buzzer from 28 feet.

It left Orlando frustrated about a second consecutive defeat, but hardly doubting itself against the Hawks (43-32) when the playoffs roll around.

``The playoffs start 0-0 and I’m pretty sure nobody has wins or an advantage going into the playoffs,’’ said Nelson, who returned from a sprained knee and scored 20 points and handed out five assists. ``Tonight wasn’t a playoff game. I know everybody is talking about the first-round matchup, but we’ll get better and be fine when the playoffs begin.’’

In a rare role reversal, Atlanta’s Josh Smith shot the ball well (10 of 18 and a season-high three 3-pointers) and scored 26 points, while Howard struggled offensively (four of 13) against the tougher defense of Hawks center Jason Collins. Said Atlanta’s Al Horford: ``We’re a different team than last year.’’

Howard entered the game second in the NBA in field goal percentage (60 percent) and had made a staggering 67.9 percent in his previous five games. Afterward, he was irate at two hard fouls by Collins that he thought should have been called flagrant fouls.

``They’re getting away with a lot of stuff. They’re getting away with a lot of stuff – however you want to write it, however you want to look at it,’’ Howard said. ``Second quarter, fourth quarter, more than once (on the flagrant fouls). Anybody else, that would have been a flagrant, but against me it’s a regular foul.’’

Magic coach Stan Van Gundy was in an equally foul mood after the game. He was upset that the Magic botched the execution of the final play with 5.7 seconds left that ended with Turkoglu’s heave, and he was bothered by the Hawks once again shutting down Orlando’s offense. In four games against Atlanta this season, Orlando has made just 38.9 percent of its shots (120 of 308), only 22.6 percent of its 3-pointers (19 of 84) while averaging just 82.5 points per game.

``They’ve beaten us three out of four; they’re better than us right now,’’ Van Gundy said. ``Doesn’t mean they will be in the playoffs. We’re not scared of them, but right now I have to say they’re better than us.’’

Atlanta coach Larry Drew sounded convinced after the game that the Hawks had made a major statement by beating the Magic. ``The win has to boost our confidence,’’ he said. ``I’m always reverting back to last year when we met them in the playoffs and they absolutely manhandled us four straight games. That left a bad taste in our mouths over the summer. To be honest, coming back this year, we knew we’d have to face that dragon again.’’

Here’s a look back at what went right, what went wrong and some final observations from the fourth and final regular-season meeting between the Magic and Hawks:

READ THE REST OF DENTON'S ANALYSIS

John Denton writes for OrlandoMagic.com. E-mail John at jd41898@aol.com. Submit a question to John for his mailbag segment at AskJD@orlandomagic.com.