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Orlando Magic 113, Atlanta Hawks 81

Orlando Pinstriped Post Photo / Bruce Maddox
Orlando Pinstriped Post Photo / Bruce Maddox

In a game that backup power forward Ryan Anderson termed a "must-win" in the wake of a 4-game losing streak, the Orlando Magic blew away the Atlanta Hawks, 113-81, with a balanced offensive attack and strong defense. 7 of the 9 Magic players who saw action scored in double-figures, led by Matt Barnes, who contributed 18 points and 7 boards. J.J. Redick scored 17 points on 12 shots starting in place of Vince Carter, while backup point guard Jason Williams fueled Orlando's 37-16 2nd quarter with 14 points of his own, to go with 2 assists; he did not score the rest of the way, but did dish 4 more assists or a game-high 6. Center Al Horford was Atlanta's own bright spot, with 14 points on 7 shots. Jamal Crawford and Joe Johnson, the Hawks' two leading scorers on average, shot 6-of-23 for 17 points, with few open looks. Orlando improves to 25-12, increases its lead over Atlanta in the Southeast Division to 1.5 games, and gets an emotional boost before its road trip West.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Hawks 92 87.9 42.3% 19.2 20.9 17.4
Magic 88 128.2 59.8% 18.3 29.7 13.6
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

Williams really stole the show in the second period, when Orlando effectively put the game away. Coach Stan Van Gundy seemed almost at a loss for words when asked about Williams' play, before offering, "Jason in the second quarter... he was rockin' and rollin'. I mean... he really had it going. I thought he energized our team and the entire building in the second quarter." Orlando grabbed 9 of the 14 defensive rebounds available in that period, with the rebounder immediately looking to Williams to push the tempo. The result? 11 fast-break points in that period alone, on 5-of-6 shooting. Anderson said, "J-Will's a guy who can get the crowd going, he's a great player. He really can move the ball and get our team really organized. And he did a great job of sparking that [in the second quarter]."

But Anderson was no slouch himself. Van Gundy benched Anderson in favor of Brandon Bass in each of the last 2 games, but promised prior to tipoff tonight that Anderson would return to the rotation. He responded when called upon, checking into the game to a rousing ovation. He scored his first points when isolated on the right block against small forward Maurice Evans, backing him down with a few dribbles before drop-stepping toward the baseline and scooping the ball in on a convincing up-and-under fake. He drained a transition three-pointer moments later, showing no ill effects from his string of DNP-CDs. He finished with 16 points in 22 minutes, shooting 5-of-10 from the field and 2-of-5 from three-point range.

Part of the Magic's gameplan, Anderson told me, was to run a lot of post-ups for their power forwards (Rashard Lewis got his share of opportunities as well). This strategy is especially effective against Atlanta because Hawks coach Mike Woodson advises his players to switch every screen. That strategy plays right into Orlando's plans, with Van Gundy running a steady diet of high screen-and-rolls with his point guards and power forwards. Often, it resulted in a 6'10" guy posting up a 6'01" defender, which forced Atlanta to double-team at times. "That switch really kinda made it be easier to post up smaller guys and get open shots in the post," Anderson said.

When he wasn't shooting threes or posting up smaller players, Anderson looked to drive, using the threat of his outside shot to keep his defender off-balance. (Our photographer, Bruce Maddox, captured several shots of Anderson slashing to the basket with authority, which you'll be able to see later today.) His versatility is astonishing, and if you haven't seen him play this year, you're really missing out.

Hawks power forward Josh Smith was at a loss to explain his team's struggles against Orlando, as Atlanta lost its 5th straight dating back to last season. "Maybe it is matchup problems. I don't know what it is. They just have the right schemes. We just have to figure out what we can do to off-set them." I'd suggest to Woodson that he stop facilitating Lewis and Anderson's post-up game by switching screens. But that's just me.

Defensively, Orlando was content to leave Smith in order to load the strong side of the floor, making it easier to contest shots from Johnson, Bibby, and Crawford. The strategy misfired early on, Lewis losing track of Smith under the rim and Johnson threading the needle to him for a dunk. But after the first few minutes, it was clear that it'd pay off. When Smith got the ball, he was usually well out of his range and forced to take a long two-pointer. He's developed into a strong All-Star candidate this year largely because he's learned his limitations and stopped shooting outside of the paint. By halftime, Smith had missed 2 of his 3 jump-shot attempts and committed 4 turnovers. To Woodson's credit, he forced Orlando to guard Smith by having him initiate the offense, which resulted in 2 first-half assists. The downside? It took the ball out of Johnson's and Crawford's more capable hands.

What impressed me most about Orlando's defense tonight was its ability to force turnovers, in fact. Atlanta's developed into one of the league's best offenses because it takes care of the ball; no team commits fewer turnovrs on a per-possession basis than Atlanta. Tonight, the Hawks committed 16 turnovers, which Orlando converted into a whopping 25 points.

I've been very complimentary of Williams and Anderson so far, but haven't really gotten into the stellar play from Barnes, Redick, and Marcin Gortat yet. This post is verging on becoming a laundry-list, so let me just say this: Barnes managed to score 18 despite not having more than 2 or 3 plays ran for him. Redick scored an effortless 17 and showed remarkable hustle, diving into Atlanta's bench to save an offensive rebound from going out-of-bounds with a 26-point lead, which Anderson extended to 29 when he bombed a three-pointer seconds later. Moments after that, Redick stopped a Hawks fast break by taking a charge on third-string center Randolph Morris, listed at 6'11" and 275 pounds. The Magic list Redick at 6'04" and 190 pounds. He took a charge from a guy twice his size (in NBA terms) with a 30-point lead. Watching the game on tape when I got home, the Magic's TV crew of David Steele and Matt Guokas noted that making these sorts of plays can secure one's spot in the rotation down the line. Redick's already solidified his role as the team's backup shooting guard, but he hasn't taken anything for granted.

Gortat had a forgettable night offensively, missing 4 of his 6 shots, including an alley-oop dunk from Williams that produced the fast break which Redick stopped by stepping in front of a runaway freight train Morris. He blocked 3 shots in his first 9 minutes on the floor, and finished with a game-high 4 rejections. He also grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds. He works extremely well with Williams in that his rebounds and decisive outlet passes (or, at times, hand-offs) allow Williams to ignite the fast-break. And as a finisher on the pick-and-roll, he's usually exceptional. They're a great center/point guard tandem.

Franchise center Dwight Howard was an afterthought tonight due to the bench's fantastic play, but did manage 12 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 blocks in a tidy 22 minutes. He set the tone for the game with an emphatic rejection of it first shot attempt, a runner from Johnson. Though Atlanta varied its double-team coverage of Howard, he still read its defense capably and made crisp, decisive passes.

The Magic have tomorrow off, for which Van Gundy is grateful. "I don't know how they [the players] feel," he said, "but I'm exhausted." Anderson said he'll be happy to get a full practice in soon before the team embarks on its road trip: "We've been playing so many back-to-backs we haven't been able to practice real hard because of the wear-and-tear on our bodies." He listed the ability to practice as one way Orlando can keep the momentum it built tonight.