Denton's Notebook: April 19, 2011

By John Denton
April 19, 2011

ORLANDO – During the regular season, Jason Richardson proved to be the Orlando Magic’s second most reliable scorer and the NBA’s leader in both 3-pointers made (169) and 3-pointers attempted (421). So it’s somewhat shocking now for Richardson to say that he might not be much of an offensive factor in the Magic’s playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks.

Richardson scored just four points in Game 1 of the series when the Hawks stayed out on the shooters and took away 3-point shots. Atlanta ranked fifth in the NBA this season in 3-pointers allowed and that cut into Richardson’s effectiveness.

Richardson also has his hands full on the defensive end, trying to check Atlanta star guard Joe Johnson, who scored 25 points in Game 1 in mostly one-on-one plays. Richardson, who will be an unrestricted free-agent at season’s end, conceded that his effectiveness offensively could be limited against the Hawks.

``This just might not be my series to play on the offensive end because I’ve got a tough cover on the other end,’’ Richardson said. ``My objective is to slow down Joe.’’

The Magic will likely need Richardson’s scoring punch throughout the series. The Hawks effectively took away Ryan Anderson’s 3-point shooting in Game 1, and Gilbert Arenas was the Magic’s third-leading scorer behind Dwight Howard’s 46 points and Jameer Nelson’s 27 with just six points.

Richardson averaged 15.6 points during the regular season with the Phoenix Suns and Orlando and 13.9 points in 55 games with the Magic.

HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE: The old saying is that styles make fights and boxers historically have been measured by the quality of their opponents. Magic coach Stan Van Gundy feels that the lack of dominant big men in the NBA has hurt Dwight Howard’s reputation nationally as one of the game’s truly great players.

Van Gundy prefaced his thoughts by pointing out that Howard has been in five All—Star Games, he’s won the Defensive Player of the Year award an unprecedented three straight years and he’ll likely be a first-team All-NBA performer for a fourth consecutive season.

Van Gundy said some people nationally might not recognize the significance of Howard’s accomplishments because of the lack of competition in the low post.

``I think the people locally do (understand Howard’s greatness) because they see him night after night. But on a national level people know that he’s good and realize that he’s the best big man in the game, so it’s hard to say he doesn’t get any respect, but for some reason it doesn’t translate to people thinking of him at the same level as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade,’’ Van Gundy said.

``It’s a perimeter league and that’s the way it is,’’ Van Gundy continued. ``I also think there’s no matchup for him that creates the excitement. If you go back to when centers were king you’d have Chamberlain and Russell and say who. Now, people look forward to Chris Paul versus Derrick Rose, Rose against Deron Williams or Rajon Rondo. Or LeBron James against Carmelo Anthony. But where’s the anticipated matchup against Dwight where people say, `Wow, now we can see the two titans go at it?’ You don’t have it at his position and so that hurts his recognition a little bit too.’’

DIFFERENT HAWKS: The fourth-seeded Magic entered the series against the fifth-seeded Hawks as heavy favorites in large part because of their success against Atlanta last spring. Orlando swept the Hawks in historic fashion last April, winning the four games by a combined 101 points.

But the Hawks used that demolition as motivation and made some offseason changes, namely replacing head coach Mike Woodson with Larry Drew.

Drew insisted that the Hawks re-sign center Jason Collins last summer because of his abilities to guard opposing centers one-on-one. And unlike last season in the playoffs when Collins rarely played against the Magic, he’s been a starter and charged with checking Howard solo in the post.

That strategy of not doubling Howard and taking away the 3-point shots worked wonders this season as the Hawks won three of four against the Magic in the regular season and took Game 1. Jamal Crawford, who scored 23 points on Saturday, said that last season’s playoff embarrassment is a distant memory and the Hawks are playing with loads of confidence against the Magic.

``We’re just out there confident. We understood that even the game we lost (against the Magic in November), the first game here, we felt like we should have won that game,’’ Crawford said. ``It’s a different team, a different situation. We’re a confident group. We’re very excited about the challenge. And we're a better team than the one last year that got took out by 25 points a game.’’

ETC: Even two days after the fact, Howard was still frustrated about being whistled for a technical foul for pulling Atlanta’s Zaza Pachulia to the floor in Game 1. Howard was fouled several times in the game – sometimes quite violently – but never were Hawks players whistled for technical fouls or flagrant fouls. Howard shot more free throws than any player in the league this season, yet never was an opposing player whistled for a flagrant foul. Said Howard: ``I just keep getting hit, but I can’t hit back. It was the same play that happens on the other end. It happens and I just have to play through it because I’m tough enough.’’ … In addition to worrying about how his team will better defend the Hawks, Van Gundy said he has been obsessed of late with Geoffrey Mutai’s historic 2 hour, 3-minute, 2-second time in the Boston Marathon on Monday. Van Gundy has dropped approximately 20 pounds this season by running on the treadmill on a daily basis. He said he was blown away by Mutai’s ability to run 26 miles in 2 hours. Van Gundy: ``I was running on the treadmill and ESPN was on and I see the winner of the Boston Marathon’s time. So I had to go figure this out. If you want to do their workout put the treadmill on 12.8 and run for two hours. I’ve been obsessed with this and have been texting my brother (Jeff Van Gundy). I get on and run 30 minutes at 6.0 and I think I’m working out. And the treadmills are on flat ground. I don’t care what the other accomplishments are in sports, that’s the best one ever.’’ … Van Gundy said that Atlanta is treating Anderson much the same way the Boston Celtics guarded Rashard Lewis in the Eastern Conference Finals last spring. The Hawks are determined not to give up 3-point shots to Anderson even if it means clear driving lanes for other players. Said Van Gundy: ``Some will say that Ryan was productive (with zero points in Game 1), but they are staying with him and it’s opening up room for others. Ryan might not get his shots in this series, but he opens the floor for others. … Games 3 and 4 are Friday and Sunday in Atlanta. Friday’s tipoff is at 8 p.m.

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