There was a time when Orlando could survive missing Dwight Howard. When the offense would still work its 1-in, 4-out brilliance, players would step up into their more prominent roles, they would still execute defensively. The Magic had the players and had the depth to survive in short stretches and for singular games at a time.
That time is long gone. Without Dwight Howard available, the Magic are a much different team, a much less talented team and a much worse team.
Dwight Howard was in Los Angeles getting a second opinion on his injured back. The news does not appear good as the Magic confirmed that Dwight Howard has a herniated disc in his back. Jarrod Rudolph of RealGM reports that it might take 10-15 days before Howard returns. There are only 15 days left until the Playoffs start.
Certainly that is a killer for the Magic. They might be just a game behind the Hawks now for the fourth seed in the East -- and three games ahead of the Knicks for sixth -- but the Playoffs seem much farther away and a much more daunting task.
Not with the effort the Magic gave in a 109-81 blowout loss to the Hawks. Orlando lost ground at the very beginning with a horrible defensive effort and offensive effort that slowly waned. Atlanta eventually ended up with as much as a 35-point deficit and the feeling that Orlando was nothing more than a nuisance to worry about in the long run.
The Magic are about as low as they have been all season after back-to-back losses, one to the woeful Wizards and the other in complete blowout fashion to the Hawks. Dwight Howard is clearly not right -- as the time out would indicate now -- and the Magic look a bit lost without him in the lineup now.
The offense, not hitting shots to begin with, relied too much on 3-point shooting and could not convert on enough of them. The opportunities to attack were fewer and farther between. Even when they did, missed layups plagued the team.
The struggles offensively led to a lack of attention defensively. The Magic did not get back and allowed the Hawks to pick them apart.
Atlanta shot 75 percent in the first quarter and took a 36-23 lead. The Hawks never looked back. They shot 50.6 percent from the floor and hit on 14 of 35 3-pointers. Those are usually numbers you can attribute to the Magic's offense. Orlando though shot just 38.8 percent from the floor and 6 for 28 from beyond the arc, including 3 for 16 in the first half.
The Magic's offense was just awful for very long stretches. They did not have great ball movement and tried to rely on one-on-one play or simply hoisting 3-pointers. And that just is not a way to get offense created.
There was nothing the Magic could do with Dwight Howard out of the game.
The closest the team came to replicating whatever it is the Magic can do with Howard in there was when the team went to Glen Davis in the post early in the third quarter. Orlando got the lead down to 14 on multiple occassions at that point thanks to Davis simply bullying his way against Josh Smith, who was not so interested in defending Davis.
Davis is the one guy you could say had a decent overall outing. Davis posted 16 points and nine rebounds, shooting 8 for 13 from the floor. His -27 for the game is really unfair to him on the offensive end of the floor. And he was not awful defensively like many of the Magic players. Davis and Von Wafer (who also had 16 points) were the only players to reach double figures.
But the Magic were awful defensively. There was no getting around it.
Atlanta let it fly from downtown. Magic-killer Janero Pargo hit his first five 3-pointers and scored 17 points. Marvin Williams came off the bench to score 16, joining Josh Smith and Joe Johnson with that amount.
Simply, Atlanta got whatever it was the team wanted. And the Hawks wanted to run the Magic out of the gym. And they did that.
Stan Van Gundy lamented and blasted his team's effort to get back in transition. That is always tenet number one of this defense -- get back and stop transition baskets. And Orlando failed at that.
This was not a missing Dwight Howard thing. This was not a missing Hedo Turkoglu thing. This was a Magic letting their offense dictate how they were going to play.
Yes, the only game Orlando has won this season without Dwight Howard was an offensive onslaught. The others were losses where the team gave up 55.6 percent shooting to the Nuggets, 56.6 percent to the Pistons and 50.0 percent to the Wizards. That is a combined 53.1 percent shooting in four losses without Dwight Howard.
The reality is now that Dwight Howard is not going to be available until the Playoffs start. If the Magic don't get their minds right, the sixth seed is no guarantee and the Playoffs will simply be enough for a team in a disappointing season.