It would be easy to chock this loss up to nagging illness, with remnants of a very contagious stomach flu still lingering inside the Magic locker room.
It would be easy. But, it would be a cop-out, really.
Although the Magic defense was quite impressive, the offense sputtered all night in a 80-74 loss to the Hawks (14-8). It is not a typical Magic (15-6) showing when the team hits the locker room with a mere 34 first half points.
In fact, Orlando's 74 points was the team's lowest point total for a single game since the October 29th Miami Heat drubbing.
With Joe Johnson on the bench with an elbow injury, the Hawks were left with a sizable hole in the roster. Enter Mike Bibby. Bibby, a 12 year veteran from Arizona, was the offensive spark for the Hawks in a game that lacked much sizzle from either squad.
With the Atlanta lead trimmed to 3 in the closing minute of the game, Bibby drained a clutch, veteran three to seal the win for the Hawks. He finished with 13 points, including shooting 3-4 from downtown.
Yet, while the Hawks did win the game, Orlando moreso gift-wrapped the win for Atlanta, an early Christmas gift I suppose. Orlando shot an abysmal 4-22 from the three point line, leaving the Magic with repeated empty possessions that kept the Magic from ever gaining control of the game. Vince Carter finished with 18 points, and Howard put in 14 himself. Yet, with the perimeter shooting blanks all night, Howard was never able to accomplish much in the paint due to a persistent double team effort from Atlanta.
Orlando's offense relies on the wings to make threes to be successful. If the shooters are clanking shots all night, defenders can stack up on Dwight to give him trouble down low. Even still, with multiple Hawks around him all night, Howard still managed 13 boards to lock-up another double-double.
It was nice to see a lot of hustle and effort on defense from the men in blue, however. For one, the hardwood floor seemed like a popular place to spend some time for a few Magicians.
Dwight Howard, chasing a loose ball in the 2nd quarter, actually ended up tumbling onto the floor as the ball rolled out of bounds. In true Dwight fashion, Howard then hammed up his return to the court as a much smaller Q-Rich 'tried' to help him up.
Also, earlier in the 1st quarter, Chris Duhon hustled and went airborne into the stands to tip an errant pass back to JJ Redick, who scored a layup on the other end of the court. Then, as the Hawks came back on offense, the Magic noticeably had only 4 players on defense. Duhon was absent from the play, instead spending some quality time with courtside fans while physically stuck between the two rows of seats. Duhon found himself lodged between the chairs while the Magic played a man down, eventually breaking free after two possessions on the court. If the NBA had a penalty box, I guess we now know where it would go in the new Amway Center.
Rashard Lewis also looked refreshingly intense on defense. While Lewis has faced a lot of criticism for his lackluster performance recently, some questioning his dedication to the team, he showed me that he has a drive to help Orlando win. In a short time window, Rashard managed to aggressively swipe away two steals from the Hawks that led to Magic points.
After this one game return visit home, the Magic are back on the road this week, looking to snap their two game losing streak Thursday night at Portland (9-11). You can catch the game with Charles and the gang on TNT.