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Tonight's Game: Atlanta Hawks at Orlando Magic

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2008/2009 NBA Regular Season
Atlanta Hawks main logo
@
Orlando Magic main logo
22-12 28-8
January 9th, 2009
Amway Arena
7:00 PM
FSN Florida HD
Probable starters:
Mike Bibby PG Jameer Nelson
Joe Johnson SG Courtney Lee
Marvin Williams SF Hedo Turkoglu
Josh Smith PF Rashard Lewis
Al Horford C Dwight Howard
Previous Meetings:
October 29th: Hawks 99, Magic 85
January 7th: Magic 106, Hawks 102

Boy, we really should be in for a heckuva game tonight.

Tonight's tilt between the Orlando Magic and the Atlanta Hawks would probably be the NBA's must-watch game of the night, were it not for the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Boston Celtics' matchup. If the Magic take care of business tonight against Atlanta, as they did on Wednesday, they'll be in second place in the Eastern Conference sometime tomorrow. Obviously, we still have a little more than half a season to go, but it's great to see the Magic are near the top of the conference in January; they haven't petered off like they did last year.

But onto the game: the Magic have to come out with the same intensity and focus they did against the Hawks on Wednesday. They also need to

  • Feed the ball to Dwight Howard, for whom Atlanta has no answer (with apologies to Al Horford, a hard-working defender);
  • force Joe Johnson to give the ball up;
  • and crash the boards.

Getting a lift from the bench (I'm looking at you, J.J. Redick) would help, too, especially because Atlanta's reserves are sure to be more productive, but I wouldn't necessarily say it's a must.

For their part, the Hawks appear to be really geared up for this game. Sekou Smith attended yesterday's practice, and filed this report afterward. Listen to what he writes about Atlanta coach Mike Woodson:

[Thursday's practice] wasn't a session the family could have attended, as there were far too many interesting words uttered by Woodson for anyone with sensitive ears to be allowed in.

I dug his approach and understood his main point; basically the Hawks made mistakes, most all of them correctable, he said. But if they weren't committed to doing things the way they have along the road to this 22-12 record, he'd be happy to make sure and play guys that were committed to doing it that way.

He didn't mince his words. Not once. And not for anybody, including his starters and captain and All-Star. It was rather refreshing to see, as I'm not always privy to the goings on at every practice for various reasons.

But I got the feeling that Woodson didn't care who saw what I saw Thursday. He was as intense as I've seen him and made sure his team understood that the message the Magic wanted to send, similar to the one the Hawks sent with their season-opening win in Orlando, was delivered first class.

Stan Van Gundy believes his team might have lucked into its most recent victory, and said the following after Wednesday's game:

"Tonight [the Hawks] missed," Van Gundy said. "I don't anticipate they they'll do that two nights in a row. When they play us Friday, it could be a tough night. I think we were very fortunate tonight."

I'm not so sure about that. Stan doesn't give himself or the players enough credit here: they played fantastic defense against the Hawks, who got very few open looks. Where they were successful was in transition (with the notable exception of Mike Bibby's inexplicable and inexcusable blown layup), and on some level the Magic need to be worried about that. If their own shots aren't falling, and if the Hawks are strong on the defensive glass, they'll be able to get out and run against a defense that has yet to set itself. Then again, if the Magic consistently get the ball to Howard, there won't be too many caroms for the Hawks to grab.

I'll end this preview with these quotes from Terence Moore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who had the following to say yesterday morning:

Still, the Hawks are at least the Magic's equal, and that means both are in the vicinity of NBA prominence.

[....]

The Magic are loaded with an impressive frontcourt of Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis to complement Howard. In the backcourt, they have rising point guard [Jameer] Nelson, and promising rookie Courtney Lee. The Hawks' starting five is slightly better than that.

Moore concedes the Hawks have work to do before the postseason starts--free throw shooting is at the top of the list--but still believes, in spite of it all, the Hawks are at least on-par with the Magic. Discuss amongst yourselves; I believe I've made my position clear.

Tip's at 7 on FSN Florida. You can see it all in high definition. Go Magic.