Denton's Dish: Magic at Hawks (2/23/12)

By John Denton
February 23, 2012

ATLANTA – With the first half of the NBA season officially complete, the parties can now begin in Orlando during the celebration for the NBA All-Star Game.

The problem for the Orlando Magic, however, is that for most of Thursday night they seemed as if they had started the vacation a night early.

When the Magic’s lackluster and disappointing 83-78 defeat against the Atlanta Hawks was complete, head coach Stan Van Gundy fumed about his team’s wavering energy levels and several players talked of the need for dramatic improvement over the second half of the season.

``I’ve been saying it to (the media), and I come off as negative all of the time, but we don’t play hard enough. We just don’t,’’ Van Gundy said. ``We’re not going to be anywhere near contenders in the East unless we’re going to play hard all the time – and right now we don’t.’’

The Magic (22-13) held an impromptu team meeting after the loss and the recurring theme was about finding a way to play with more energy on a consistent basis.

``We can use excuses like we played four (games) in five nights, but (Van Gundy) is right (about the lack of energy),’’ said Ryan Anderson, who made just four of 13 shots and had 10 points. ``At the end of the day we just have to come out and play harder. We just didn’t start the game off hard and they killed us with energy.’’

Most frustrating to the Magic was a sluggish first half in which they were outscored 21-2 in fastbreak points, repeatedly turned the ball over and gave up several back-breaking second-chance points. Orlando made a spirited run in the second half, but Van Gundy just used that as evidence that the team simply turns it on and off and doesn’t play consistently hard.

``We were bad. Our effort was bad. And our energy was bad,’’ said Magic guard J.J. Redick, who had a team-high 13 points. ``When we play like that, we’re just a bad team.’’

The loss also continued the Magic’s misery against the Hawks (20-14). Orlando lost in Atlanta twice in the regular season and three times in the playoffs last season. Atlanta won the first meeting this season in overtime in Orlando and won Thursday night despite not having all-stars Joe Johnson and Al Horford.

The Magic were without starting point guard Jameer Nelson because a knee strain, but did get shooting guard Jason Richardson back on a limited basis. Richardson missed the previous three games because of pains in his chest and lungs, but was cleared to play 45 minutes prior to tipoff on Thursday.

Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said that Nelson ``tweaked’’ his left knee during the second half of Orlando’s lopsided win in New Jersey on Wednesday. Nelson spent a significant period of time icing his knee and ankles after the game, but was in a cheerful mood after the victory. However, he woke up on Thursday to swelling and stiffness in the knee, and was held out of the game. The injury isn’t believed to be a serious one.

Franchise center Dwight Howard had 12 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots, but he made just five of seven field goals because the Magic had trouble getting the ball to him on the low block. Hedo Turkoglu (4 of 16, 11 points) and Richardson (3 of 10, seven points) struggled mightily throughout the game.

Such an effort was shocking a night after the Magic gashed New Jersey for 54 percent shooting, 13 3-pointers and a season-best 32 assists. A night later and the Magic looked like a tired team.

``We had no energy – even on the offensive end – no energy and no movement,’’ Van Gundy said. ``And it’s not all physical, which is the other point that I just made to them. They had energy in the second half. You couldn’t be less tired in the second half than the first half. They just decided, `You know what, I’m going to play’ in the second half when we needed to.’’

Here is a look at some of the key moments from Thursday night’s game in Atlanta:


  • Redick’s inspired play in the third quarter helped the Magic get back into the game. And he did it in a variety of ways, hitting two 3-pointers and getting into the lane three times for baskets.

    Redick showed off his creativity and athleticism early in the fourth quarter when he faked out the defense with a pass attempt that he held onto and converted into a layup. Seconds later, Redick followed up his own 3-point miss with a rebound and a tough put-back in traffic.

    Redick said that the Magic can take solace in the fact that they have been up and down all season with their energy and defensive intensity, yet they are in the top half of the East standings.

    ``It’s a positive where we are with how we’ve played at times,’’ Redick said. ``We’re third in the East, but the first half of this game tonight was kind of a microcosm of how our season has gone. Some nights we play with great energy and some nights we don’t.’’

  • Clearly weary from playing their fourth game in five nights and spending nearly a week on the road, the Magic were sluggish and sloppy early in the game.

    The Hawks outhustled the Magic in the first half to the tune of a 21-2 edge on fastbreak points. The Magic had a lot to do with jump-starting the Hawks break, committing nine first-half turnovers that led to 13 points.

    The Magic struggled to do much of anything right in the second period. They mustered just 10 points in the period by missing 12 of 16 shots and turning the ball over seven times. How bad was it in the second quarter? Atlanta reserve guard Jannero Pargo scored more points in the second quarter (12) than the Magic (10).

    ``We had a team meeting afterward just talking about everybody coming together and depending on one another,’’ Anderson said. ``We have to rely on one another and hold one another accountable. We haven’t been playing that great and we’re third in the East, so we must be doing something right. It just shows that we can compete with anybody when we play the way we know we can.’’


  • Redick’s streak of 34 straight made free throws ended in the fourth quarter with a misfire with 15 seconds to play. Referees had to review whether Redick was fouled on a 3-point or 2-point shot and made him wait approximately 3 minutes before attempting his free throws.

    Redick, who entered the game as the NBA’s leader in free throw shooting, hadn’t missed a free throw since Jan. 18. He failed to reach Darrell Armstrong’s franchise record of 47 straight free throw makes set in 1999. Orlando’s Player Development Coach Mark Price once made 77 free throws in a row in 1993.

  • After getting outscored 18-10 in a dismal second quarter the Magic came back after halftime and outscored the Hawks 25-11 in the third period.

    Orlando’s ball movement and execution was much better in the third quarter. Of course, it also helped that the Magic made four 3-pointers in the period. And when Redick opened the fourth quarter with another 3-pointer in transition it allowed the Magic to tie the game at 58-all after falling behind by as much as 17 points.

  • With Nelson out injured, Magic guard Ish Smith was pressed into duty and brought the team some energy and steady ball-handling off the bench. He had eight points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals in 19 turnover-free minutes.

John Denton writes for John has covered the Magic since 1997 and recently authored ``All You Can Be’’ with Magic center Dwight Howard. E-mail John at

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