I guess this is as built up as a preseason game can get. The Hawks claimed to have a renewed focus and, as Josh Robbins of The Orlando Sentinel put it, "that look in their eye" as they faced the team that eliminated them from the postseason. No one told Atlanta's team, much less its fans, to show up for this one. Luckily for the Hawks, it was just preseason.
The Magic continued steamrolling through the preseason for a 102-73 victory that seemed, once again, over just after it started.
Dwight Howard got his work in offensively early on his way to 14 points and 13 rebounds. He was stout defensively too as the Magic kept the Hawks out of the paint almost the entire evening and, even with a new motion offense, kept Atlanta shooting midrange jumpers -- and shooting them quite unsuccessfully.
All these games are really starting to blend together. Orlando is almost ready for the regular season and these preseason games seem almost elementary at this point.
The Hawks shot a frigid 30.8 percent from the floor and three of 16 from beyond the arc. Atlanta's offense looks much better than it did a year ago too. Gone are all the one on one isolation sets the team used to run and in is a series of screens and motion sets. Aesthetically, it will be an offense that can work. But not against Orlando. Even with Rashard Lewis starting at the three tonight, Howard's ability to clog the lane and the team's superb defensive rotations kept Atlanta effectively out of the paint. Like I have been saying, the Hawks settled for jumpers all night.
And Atlanta still has not answer for Howard. That will ultimately how this matchup will be decided. The Hawks do not seem ready to meet that challenge.
Atlanta was down 21-14 after one quarter and kept it close throughout the first half. Then a 35-18 third quarter ended any chance Atlanta might have had at either testing Orlando or winning the game. It honestly felt neither team was really engaged in the first half and then the Magic focused in and put the Hawks away. The scary part is, even if you assume the first half was played at kind of stilting, methodical pace, Orlando still had the game pretty much decided and in control.
And methodical is really the way to describe how the Magic went about their business tonight. Everyone got a turn shouldering the offensive load and Van Gundy got a good look at how Lewis matches up against Marvin Williams at the three and how this team could play with two post players in against one of its chief conference rivals.
Howard had it going early. Then Vince Carter got his work in for 13 points on 5-for-8 shooting. Brandon Bass led the second unit and put on a hard-working, offensive display for a team-high 17 points and eight rebounds (four offensive). Jameer Nelson got things going in the third quarter, ending the evening with 14 points. And Ryan Anderson finished off by draining a couple threes on his way to 11 points as the second unit finished the game off.
Pretty methodical, indeed.
The big winner tonight may have been Bass. He continues to be a preseason all star and is making Stan Van Gundy's decision on splitting minutes very difficult. Bass displayed his mid-range arsenal and did a good job getting to spots on the floor where he is comfortable shooting. More than that, he continued to make himself available as an outlet often neglected by Atlanta's scrambling defense.
Bass also continued to display his hustle, something I do not think anyone has ever questioned that in his time in Orlando. His weaknesses around the basket were also apparent. He missed some close up shots, but to his credit continued to fight for offensive rebounds. The shots around the basket will be what Bass has to continue improving on. Anderson found his shooting touch tonight and will continue to push Van Gundy to give him minutes.
But undoubtedly, Bass looks a lot more comfortable on the floor and is playing much much better. The two post lineup can certainly work. Chris Duhon, Marcin Gortat and Bass connected on more than a few pick and rolls. Duhon had 10 assists tonight, by the way.
The only complaints Van Gundy can make were turnovers and free throws.
Orlando committed 13 turnovers. It is not a horrible number, but considering Atlanta committed only six, it was something that kept Atlanta in the game longer than it should have. Then you have to consider Atlanta is most successful when it gets out on the break. So turnovers against this team are particularly damaging. The number is not bad, again. But it is not great.
Fouling and free throws though have been a concern throughout the preseason. The Magic hit on only 67.9 percent of their free throws (19-28, Howard 4 for 11). Getting 28 free throws is a good number. But Orlando also conceded 29 free throws and Atlanta hit its free throws at a better rate (75.9 percent, 22-29).
In all, Orlando committed 15 personal fouls. Like with the turnovers, that is not a horrible number. The only issue is that a lot of them were shooting fouls. Some late rotations here and there and some well-time pump fakes drew fouls. But this has been recurring throughout the preseason too. Time to start correcting these things.
Free throws, fouls and turnovers are typically issues during the preseason. So perhaps it is nitpicking to point these out.
In fact, it is. Orlando dominated this game from start to finish and simply got its work done tonight. This team needs to play a meaningful game soon to keep its interest level up. They appear ready for the games to start counting.