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Atlanta Hawks 91, Orlando Magic 81

The Orlando Magic's weekend trades to bring in offensive firepower did not pay dividends in the new players' first game with their new team, as Orlando shot just 35.2 percent from the floor in a 91-81 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night. Standbys Dwight Howard (19 points, 20 rebounds, but just 6-of-14 shooting and 6 turnovers) and Jameer Nelson (18 points on 6-of-11 shooting) turned in solid efforts for Orlando, but the Magic simply could not get their shots to fall in an ugly overall performance. Hawks big man Al Horford led all players with 24 points and shot 10-of-15 from the floor, consistently punishing the new-look Magic for failing to rotate over to him on the weak side. Mike Bibby scored 13 of his 15 points in the third quarter to bail out Atlanta's flagging offense.

Though some positive signs abounded, the Magic's new players did not impress overall. Jason Richardson, starting at shooting guard, scored 9 points on 3-of-8 from the floor. Hedo Turkoglu, now in his second go-round with Orlando, shot 1-of-4 but managed 8 points thanks to a 5-of-6 mark from the free-throw line. He ignited fast-break possessions with his 6 defensive rebounds, and seeing the lanky veteran once again push the pace in Magic pinstripes was a little surreal.

Gilbert Arenas, the highest-profile addition, started on a strong note. He sank his first Magic shot attempt, a three-pointer off the catch on the right wing, at the 3:54 mark of the first quarter. He missed 9 of his next 10 shots, however, and finished with 10 points. On the positive side, he did shoot 6 free throws, which is twice his average on the year.

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Magic 89 91.3 38.0% 38.0 13.6 13.5
Hawks 92 99.0 45.0% 23.8 28.9 17.4
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

Fans tuning in to learn something new about their team's remade roster were sorely disappointed, both in Orlando's performance and in the lack of answers tonight provided. Save for some of the folks wearing the uniform, this game is virtually indistinguishable from the Magic's seven losses in their last eight. On offense, the ball tended to die on one side of the floor, Howard struggled with his touch inside, and the three-point shots didn't drop at an acceptable rate. At the other end? The missed defensive assignments and poor performance on the glass--the Hawks grabbed 28.9 percent of their misses--sure looked familiar, didn't they?

It's possible I overstate Orlando's defensive issues here, because it still limited the Hawks to less than a point per possession and didn't let Josh Smith or Joe Johnson (combined 29 points on 10-of-32 from the floor) get it going. Plus, defense takes more time to learn than offense does, and Orlando had three new players log at least 27 minutes each tonight. In that respect, it sure could have been worse.

And Orlando's offense, though abysmal much of the night--we should have known it'd be rough when the first quarter ended showing 14 points on Orlando's side, on 25 percent shooting--showed some positives. About midway through the first quarter, Turkoglu and Howard ran a screen-and-roll high on the left side. Dribbing from left to right around Howard's screen, Turkoglu turned the corner and drew the defense from the strong side, and then dished to Nelson on the right wing for three. It missed, but the timing of the play was darn near ideal. Turkoglu looked at home, really. Turkoglu and Howard showed their synergy again at the 4:39 mark of the third period when Turkoglu passed up an open transition three-pointer off the catch in order to wait and patiently lob the ball over the defense. Howard had snuck behind it, caught the ball, and threw down a monster jam with two hands to knot the score at 55. That play capped a 6-0 Magic run which suggested maybe Orlando was waking up a bit.

From there, Atlanta took control, going on a 14-3 tear through the end of the third and first minute of the fourth to essentially put the game out of reach. In a vacuum, trailing by 10 ought to be nothing to a Magic team boasting so much offensive talent. But it had struggled so mightily the whole night that there was little chance for Orlando to catch up, which speaks to just how poorly the Magic have played lately, and how that poor play has subsequently lowered expectation.

Hats off to Hawks coach Larry Drew, who continues to start defensive stalwart Jason Collins exclusively to combat Howard. Collins' dogged defense forced Howard into multiple mistakes--three-second calls, offensive fouls--tonight. He got his 19 points, but Collins did his best to ensure few of them came easily.

No rest for the weary. Three games for Orlando in the next five nights, all against elite teams. At least all the dates are at home, but the sad truth for this remade team is that its situation will get worse before it gets better, which would be true even if the schedule weren't such a bear.