The Orlando Magic host the Atlanta Hawks tonight at Amway Arena, and Atlanta's really never been better. The Hawks completed a sweep of their season series against the Boston Celtics last night and hold a half-game lead over Orlando for first place in the Southeast Division. All-Star shooting guard Joe Johnson scored 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting in the 4th period to bury Boston, which entered the fourth trailing by a single point. Johnson and center Al Horford (whom Tania Ganguli profiled here) will represent the Hawks in this year's All-Star game, and with a win tonight Mike Woodson and his coaching staff will make the trip to Dallas as well. Orlando, too, is coming off an important win over Boston. Both of tonight's combatants have played well of late, so we should be in for a good, competitive game. But maybe not: the Hawks' record in the second game of a back-to-back set after winning the night before stands at 2-5, and their most recent game in such a situation came earlier this month after Orlando, when the Magic dealt them a 32-point drubbing.
|2009/2010 NBA Season|
|January 30th, 2010|
|Sun Sports / NBA TV|
|Mike Bibby||PG||Jameer Nelson|
|Joe Johnson||SG||Vince Carter|
|Marvin Williams||SF||Matt Barnes|
|Josh Smith||PF||Rashard Lewis|
|Al Horford||C||Dwight Howard|
|November 26th: Magic 93, Hawks 76|
|January 9th: Magic 113, Hawks 81|
Orlando's a tough cover for Atlanta. Horford can't guard Dwight Howard, and the Hawks' strategy of switching every screen enables the Magic to isolate Rashard Lewis and Ryan Anderson in the post against the likes of Mike Bibby and Jamal Crawford. Josh Smith is a potential Defensive Player of the Year winner--Howard, the reigning DPoY, put him at the top of his list earlier this week--but hasn't made a substantial impact in either of the Hawks' games against the Magic this season.
If it sounds like I'm writing Atlanta off, I'm not. Remarkably, some of the Hawks' best players shoot better on the second night of a back-to-back, with Johnson boosting his two-point shooting from 49.3% to 51.4%, and his three-point shooting from 35.3% to 40%. Crawford and Horford also shoot a higher percentage in those situations, while Mike Bibby shows considerable consistency, which leads me to believe the Hawks' defense (which isn't great in the first place) is what's hurt them in back-to-backs. That fact, coupled with the aforementioned mismatches Orlando's offense presents to Atlanta, bodes well for the Magic.
I just caution anyone against underestimating this Hawks team. It's for real, and feeds off disrespect. For instance, when Boston's Kendrick Perkins told the press the Celtics "put a hit out" on Crawford prior to last night's game, Crawford responded with 28 points. Do not cross that man.
Also for real: the fact that Smith got snubbed from the All-Star game. Here's a trio of articles about how egregious his exclusion is, from Bethlehem Shoals, Kevin Pelton, and John Hollinger. It'll never stop being ridiculous to me. Perhaps Peachtree Hoops said it best when he wrote, "if you need Josh Smith, he will continue to have a career year in the corner."
Tip's at 7.