In what is almost certain to be a first round playoff match up, the Orlando Magic faced the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night. The Hawks survived another manic Magic comeback to win 85-82. After tonight’s affair Orlando might need to make adjustments to its offensive scheme against Atlanta. It was the third straight game in which Atlanta secured a victory against Orlando holding the Magic to 82 points or less. The raw numbers do not do justice to the outcome of the game especially in regards to Dwight Howard. He finished with a more than respectable 17 points and 13 rebounds. Look closer and you will see he shot 4-13 from the floor and played 33 foul plagued minutes. Undoubtedly the deciding factor in this tilt.
The Hawks again deployed Jason Collins, aka Twin, as a starter to bang with Howard early and often. Collins held his ground and forced Howard into off balance shots throughout the evening. Howard picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter and struggled from that point on. It is only due to his sheer determination and athletic ability he was able to finish with the numbers he did. Stan Van Gundy acknowledged the play of Collins by saying, “That’s the best defense I’ve seen all year on Dwight. Against Collins, he didn’t get a lot of good shots. I thought he did a great job on him. He’s big and physical. He doesn’t give you anything easy. Dwight had trouble getting good, on-balance shots.” Collins played Howard one on one for the majority of the time the two were matched up. Howard did most of his damage with Collins on the bench which is not a good sign for Orlamdo. If Atlanta is able to play Dwight Howard without double teaming similar to the way Celtics typically play him, Orlando will struggle to get shots elsewhere in a playoff series. Orlando has scored 82, 81, and 74 points in their last 3 losses to Atlanta. This is a problem.
Both teams got important pieces back to their lineup after one game absences. Jameer Nelson returned for Orlando and Joe Johnson returned for Atlanta. Nelson’s return overall was more influential as he paced the Magic with 20 points scoring most of his points while Howard sat with foul trouble. But it was Johnson’s floater with 55 seconds left to play that gave the Hawks the lead for good breaking an 82-82 tie. For the Hawks it was the play of Josh Smith that confounded the Magic defense throughout. Smith was consistent with his jumper burying three 3′s and finishing with 26 pts, 6rebs, and 4ast. Smith is not known to be a consistent shooter and the Magic game plan seemed to be more focused on Johnson who they doubled with regularity. The law of averages say that was the proper game plan and credit Smith for making the Magic pay for leaving him open.
The Magic finish the season a surprisingly woeful 1-3 against their Southeast Division rivals. If the Hawks can continue to limit the Magic offense, that first round series meeting might extend longer than Orlando would hope. The Magic are clearly the better team but Atlanta has had their proverbial number this year. The Magic will need Howard to stay on the floor manning the post and keeping the defensive air space free of flying birds in order dispense of Atlanta in the playoffs. The Bobcats are next on Friday night.
About the Author
Written by Warren Shaw
I am an avid Basketball fan who has worked for the New York Knicks, Alonzo Mourning Charities and various other sports organizations. Having covered many NBA and various professional sporting events has given me the opportunity to provide insight with an unbiased but flavor driven view. I look forward to providing NBA content and interacting with knowledgeable fans and readers. Follow me on Twitter @shawsports or Email your questions to me at Warrenshaw@prosportsblogging.com