Atlanta Hawks 80, Orlando Magic 74

In one of their worst offensive showings since Stan Van Gundy took over as head coach prior to the 2007/08 season, the Orlando Magic fell to the Atlanta Hawks, 80-74, on Monday night to drop their second straight game. Without point guard Jameer Nelson to orchestrate the offense, Orlando stagnated and failed to get good shots for most of the night, shooting 4-of-22 from three-point range and turning the ball over 17 times in a low-possession game. Atlanta's Josh Smith poured in 19 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists, and 4 blocked shots to outplay his childhood friend and former AAU teammate, Dwight Howard, who shot only 5-of-11 from the floor to finish with 14 points, 13 rebounds, and 3 blocks of his own. Mike Bibby hit the crucial basket, a straightaway three-pointer to give his team a 6-point edge with 26.2 seconds to play, forcing the Magic to play the free-throw game the rest of the way.

Against an active and engaged Hawks defense, the Magic failed to move the ball from side-to-side, which is one reason they've enjoyed so much success during Van Gundy's tenure. Far too much one-on-one play for Orlando tonight, which resulted in just 9 assists on 28 field goals. The Magic's defense was no slouch either, yielding less than one point per possession to a potent Hawks crew, but Atlanta didn't make many mistakes even though it missed 62 percent of its shot attempts. With Smith locked in from mid-range and Bibby connecting on three of his four treys, Atlanta got just enough offensively to best a clearly struggling Magic team.

Vince Carter led Orlando with 18 points on 8-of-15 shooting, but freed himself for only one three-point attempt, which he missed. And Quentin Richardson failed to exploit the Hawks' smallish defenders in the low post, missing all four of his shots en route to a scoreless night. Rashard Lewis, too, struggled to get it going. Matched up against Smith and Al Horford for much of the night, Lewis missed eight of his 11 tries, and one of his baskets was an uncontested layup for the game's final points.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Hawks 85 94.4 41.8% 10.6 22.2 9.4
Magic 87 85.4 40.5% 18.9 23.8 19.6
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

Nights like this make one appreciate what Nelson can do for Orlando's ballclub. Though Chris Duhon played one of his better games of the season filling in for Nelson, the Magic nonetheless had to use Carter to initiate much of their offense, which yielded unimpressive results. Carter wisely looked to attack Atlanta's weak perimeter defenders in the pick-and-roll, but Horford and Smith provided expert help throughout the game. With the outside shots falling off the rim, the passing lanes open only briefly, and Jason Collins blanketing Howard insidde, the Magic struggled to get good shot attempts. There's very little good to say about that end of the floor tonight. Even without Nelson, Orlando's capable of more offensively.

At the other end, Orlando rotated soundly and did a commendable job battling back to win the rebounding fight, 45-42, after a significant early deficit. Few second-chance looks for Atlanta, but otherwise, they moved the ball OK and got decent shot attempts. Bibby's lone missed trey was wide-open, and Maurice Evans, who's almost automatic from the corners on most nights, also missed a great three-point try on one possession where Orlando was shorthanded, owing to Duhon struggling to free himself from the crowd after diving into the second row for a loose ball. In general, it's fair to say the Magic lacked the energy to compete tonight.

They also didn't get much from their bench. Yeah, Brandon Bass scored 10 points, but he shot 4-of-11 from the field and committed three turnovers. J.J. Redick scored 11 points in his return to Orlando's lineup from the same stomach bug that's sidelined Nelson, but Mickael Pietrus' woeful night (no points, 0-of-3 shooting in 14 minutes) mitigated his impact. On nights like these, teams ought to be able to count on their benches to provide a sort of spark that can put them over the top. Only Redick really came through tonight, and Van Gundy was wise to leave him in at shooting guard for the game's closing minutes.

Atlanta ought to feel great about this win. It's struggled against the Magic in the past, having not won in Orlando since opening night of the 2008/09 season. A gutty effort from Atlanta's men tonight, which earned them a very tough win. Kudos to them for a fantastic effort, and Smith in particular. Famously prone to mental lapses, he played sharp on both ends tonight, and gets the game ball from me despite Bibby's heroics. I don't like the idea of a player with his athletic gifts taking early jumpers, but when he drains them, he makes folks like me look foolish.

Reigning Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford needed 17 shots to score 15 points off the Hawks' bench, but he scored 6 quick points to start the fourth period when Van Gundy elected to use five reserves at once. The Magic positioned themselves to make a fourth-quarter run, as they only trailed by a single point entering the final 12 minutes. But poor execution--they committed 6 turnovers in the period--and conversion doomed them in a loss that's sure to sting for a while.

If you want to be a bit silly, you can take this loss as a good sign if you're a Magic fan. Indeed, as I said, Atlanta hadn't won in Orlando since opening night 2008/09, when Orlando went on to advance to the NBA Finals.

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