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Tonight's Game: Orlando Magic at Atlanta Hawks

2008/2009 NBA Regular Season
Orlando Magic 20th anniversary logo
Atlanta Hawks alternate logo
27-8 22-11
January 7th, 2009
Philips Arena
7:00 PM
FSN Florida
Probable starters:
Jameer Nelson PG Mike Bibby
Courtney Lee SG Joe Johnson
Hedo Turkoglu SF Marvin Williams
Rashard Lewis PF Josh Smith
Dwight Howard C Al Horford
Previous Meetings:
October 29th: Hawks 99, Magic 85

No, I can't believe the Atlanta Hawks are 22-11 either, even after they embarrassed the Orlando Magic on their own floor on opening night. As much as I want to dismiss the Hawks as a flukey team, I can't. We're nearing the halfway point of the season and Atlanta is winning two games for every one it loses. I don't want it to be true, but it is, and the Magic need to be ready.

UPDATE: How ready? Pretty ready. Matt Watson details how well Atlanta has played recently:

The Hawks may be the league's best team no one is talking about yet, but they've only lost two games in their last 12 -- the first a three-point loss to the Celtics and the second the result of a buzzer-beater by Vince Carter in overtime.

I had no idea.

Injuries may change the Hawks' gameplan a bit tonight, but not much. Starting small forward Marvin Williams is a game-time decision, meaning Maurice Evans could start in his place. UPDATE: Marvin Williams is a go, says Sekou Smith. Zaza Pachulia and Acie Law IV are out. Ronald Murray would see extensive action off the bench, with the Hawks shifting Joe Johnson to small forward in a three-guard lineup. That's the strategy they used to beat the Houston Rockets on Saturday... and to beat the Magic on opening night, for that matter.

No matter who takes the floor for Atlanta tonight, the key to stopping it is to close-out on its three-point shooters. Kevin Pelton has traced the Hawks' marked increase in offensive efficiency to their taking--and thus making--more treys this year. The Magic have the personnel to make this happen. I'd argue the Magic have about zero chance of sticking with Johnson, so they should instead focus on keeping Evans, Williams, and Mike Bibby in check.

Based on some comments he made after last night's narrow 89-80 win over Atlanta, in which Wizards two-guard Caron Butler scored 29 points, Stan Van Gundy might agree that the Magic can't guard Johnson. Here's Van Gundy, as transcribed by John Denton of Florida Today:

"If you're a two-guard, we're the team you want to play," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy muttered Tuesday night. "We're struggling to stop anybody at that position."

If the game is close in crunch-time, the Hawks will go to either Bibby or Johnson, while relying on Josh Smith and Al Horford for rebounds. Defensively, they'll probably switch Johnson on Jameer Nelson and protect Bibby from being exploited by cross-matching him with Courtney Lee. We've seen bigger guards frustrate Jameer throughout his career, most notably Richard Hamilton, so the Magic may find themselves depending on Hedo Turkoglu or Rashard Lewis for crunch-time buckets instead of Nelson. I'm sure plenty of NBA teams would love to have that problem.

One thing to consider while fearing Johnson: he hasn't been defended by Lee yet. In the first game, Keith Bogans and J.J. Redick shared the backup shooting guard minutes. Johnson torched everyone, and Murray really had his way with Redick. There's the hope that Lee will be able to at least frustrate Johnson... right?

A loss tonight wouldn't bother me too much, as long as the Magic return the favor when these teams meet again this Friday in Orlando. Tip's at 7 on FSN. Check out Peachtree Hoops' gamethread for more about the Hawks. Go Magic.