Denton: Magic Confident For Game 2

By John Denton
April 18, 2011


ORLANDO – Usually immaculately dressed after games in clothes that are both tailored and fashionable, Orlando Magic superstar center Dwight Howard trudged to his postgame interview late Saturday night in a wrinkled shooting shirt.

Howard was so mad and so filled with frustration following the Magic’s 103-93 Game 1 loss to the Atlanta Hawks that he didn’t even want to get dressed following the game.

How, he wondered, could he have the game of his life with 46 points and 19 rebounds and his Magic still lose to the Hawks? How could an Atlanta team that looked mostly lifeless down the stretch go out in the playoffs and shoot 58 percent through three periods and 51 percent for the game? And how was Howard going to handle having to hear trash talk from Hawks’ forwards Josh Smith and Josh Powell, two childhood friends from his days growing up in Atlanta?

``I wasn’t frustrated, I was just mad losing to the Hawks,’’ Howard said upon becoming the first player ever to win three straight Defensive Player of the Year awards on Monday. ``One word that I’m trying to get myself away from is `frustration,’ but I was frustrated that we lost to the Hawks because I have a couple of friends on the Hawks and I don’t want them to have the rights to brag to me about beating us. Then, I have to go home and hear about it every day. I just don’t want to lose to those guys. I put a lot into that game and I’m going to do it the rest of the series so that we can win.’’

Howard hopes to avoid the embarrassment of another loss Tuesday night when the fourth-seeded Magic face the fifth-seeded Hawks at 7:30 p.m. at the Amway Center. Orlando knows from last spring in the Eastern Conference Finals against Boston that going down 0-2 at home would almost be a death knell, so the Magic will undoubtedly pour everything they have into Game 2.

``All of these guys have been in playoff series. I don’t think anybody believes that we’re finished or that the Lakers are finished or San Antonio is finished,’’ Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. ``It’s one game, and you don’t like to lose that first game at home, but you just keep playing. We’ve been in this situation before and I think we’ll be fine.’’

Just don’t call Tuesday night a ``must-win’’ game for the Magic around Van Gundy.

``The only must-win games in my mind are the ones that end your season,’’ Van Gundy said. ``The ones at the end of the regular season that knock you out of the playoffs or end your season. Is it important? Of course, it is. You don’t ever want to go down 0-2, especially not 0-2 at home. But must-win is reserved for the knockout punch in my mind.’’

Howard earned his third straight Defensive Player of the Year award, but not even he could do anything to help slow down the Hawks in Game 1. Joe Johnson (25 points) and Jamal Crawford (23 points) shredded Orlando, as did Josh Smith, Kirk Hinrich and Al Horford, who all reach double digits mostly on jump shots. The Hawks made a jaw-dropping 74 percent of their shots in the second and third quarters combined, sending the Magic into a 14-point hole to start the fourth period.

``We have to make it tougher on those guys when they have the ball and not worry so much about our offense,’’ Magic point guard Jameer Nelson said. ``A lot of people are concerned about us needing to get other people involved, but first and foremost we have to get them under control defensively. We have to get into them more individually on the defensive end of the floor.’’

The Magic ranked fourth in the NBA in points allowed and field goal percentage allowed this season, and their inability to get stops hit them hard in the days after Game 1. Howard had little to say after the loss and was clearly steaming over the Game 1 defeat. Van Gundy said it was only natural for his team to be irate because it usually prides itself on its abilities defensively.

``You put a lot into it and you should take it hard when things don’t go well, especially this time of year. Things didn’t go the way we wanted and we didn’t play as well as we hoped,’’ Van Gundy said. ``There’s no question it was a tough loss and (Howard) took it hard, but players are more resilient than coaches. I don’t worry much about our team in terms of resiliency. We’re not going to have a hangover from that game. But you should take a game like that hard because we didn’t get the job done.’’

Howard said Monday that he is confident that his team will respond to the Game 1 loss and play much better Tuesday night. He is hoping that the combination of the Magic’s urgency combined with the Hawks hopefully missing a few shots will lead to success in the series. Howard said there is no sense of panic around his team.

``Everybody is great. There is no need for us to hold our heads down,’’ he said. ``It’s a series and it’s not like it’s one game and we’re out. We understand that we have to continue to play basketball and continue to believe. It’s one game – the Lakers lost and a lot of teams lost and instead of just giving up we have to keep playing.’’

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.