Ah yes, Turkey Day is just about here. Normally, I’d be all psyched about which football teams are playing. I looked that schedule over and came away less than impressed. Green Bay and Detroit? Yuck. Oakland versus Dallas? Surely you jest. Denver and New York is about the best it will get, and I’m really not interested in that one either, plus I’m still smarting from the overtime loss that my beloved Atlanta Falcons suffered to the Giants. I’m still not happy about the loss to Dallas either, so in keeping with the holiday gridiron vengeful spirit, I’ll just say “Go Broncos and Raiders!”, albeit half-heartedly.
Ah, but there is one matchup that I’m extremely interested in, as I’m sure all of you, my fellow Hawksville denizens, are as well. Orlando versus Atlanta, a roundball treat on a hardwood setting! Now I know what some are thinking. In an 82 game season, how could a person get so wound up over what happens to be just the 15th game? Is 15 games a good measure of how far a team has come, or how far it has to go? Well, those are valid questions, and I am certain that there are many more questions behind those, every one of them just as valid. I’ll say that the importance of this game is not just based on any one thing. It is a basis for judgment on a team’s progress throughout a set number of games, but it is also about who that team is playing. Furthermore, it is about the various chain reactions that can come from a win or a loss.
When a team is learning to win, there are several stages that the team must go through. Sometimes a team can leapfrog some of those stages, winning big, and doing so quickly (the 2007-2008 Boston Celtics). But this is often not the case. No, it is usually one step at a time, and may involve both backward and forward steps, though overall progress (or in some cases, regress) can be gauged at the end of a season or several seasons. Thus it is with our Atlanta Hawks, who are aspiring to break into the ranks of the NBA’s elite. And as we all know, to be the best, you have to beat the best. In our division, that would be the Orlando Magic, who also happen to be the reigning Eastern Conference champions. But enough pontificating, let’s get on with what the nuts and bolts of this game.
HAWKS VS MAGIC
Both teams are coming into this game with 11-3 records. The Magic have a five game winning streak that they hope to keep alive when they play Miami tonight. The Hawks had a seven game winning streak snapped when they ran out of gas in New Orleans. The Magic might be tired. The Hawks might be out of rhythm or rusty. You just never know. Both teams are deeper than they were last year, though just about anybody who asks will give that edge to Orlando, hands down. It’s hard to argue against that, as Orlando has a great deal of useable talent, and basically has all positions covered two men deep at the least.
What you might remember
If you are a Hawks fan, this is one of those trips down memory lane that you just don’t want to take. The Magic beat the Hawks last season, and it wasn’t pretty. Most memorable was the back-to-back games against them. The first wasn’t so bad, but the second was an embarrassment to end all embarrassments. The Magic were up by 50 at one point in the game, and coasted to a lopsided victory that was actually worse than the final score. Fast forward to this year’s preseason game , wherein the Magic again beat the Hawks like a drum. Do the Magic have some sort of psychological edge on the Hawks? Is the difference in talent really that large? Does coaching have anything to do with it? Whatever the case, the Hawks have to figure out a way to break the spell that the Magic seem to have on them.
These guys might be trouble
Right out of the gate, I just about have to pick Vince Carter as my first game maker/game breaker. Vinsanity isn’t shooting very well of late (41%), and he is taking quite a few shots regardless of that. In fact, it’s obvious just looking at the numbers, that he is taking quite a few touches from Dwight Howard. But that is another story. The fact is, Carter has been trouble in the past for us, and he can be trouble on any given night. If he gets hot, particularly from 20 feet or more, it’s going to be a VERY rough night for the Hawks.
My next pick is Jameer Nelson. Nelson isn’t shooting an impressive percentage from the field overall (44%), but his 3 point shooting is a definite threat (42%). Tough, reasonably quick and strong, Nelson can feed off of his bigger and more potent teammates. If he gets good looks from deep, he’s going to hit the shots. I’ve never seen him as an all-star level talent, but on a team like this, he doesn’t have to be.
Last but not least is Ryan Anderson, and personally he bothers me more than Nelson does. Having served his suspension, Rashard Lewis moved back into the starting lineup, relegating Anderson back to the bench. Lewis has understandably struggled. Anderson has not. At 6′10″, and with as much range as Lewis, there is no let up when he comes into the game, creating a near duplicate matchup nightmare off the bench that few teams (if any) can counter.
Really, Nelson is the darkhorse of the three, and may not factor into this as much as Carter or Anderson. But what the heck, why not step out on a limb?
Dwight Howard’s numbers are 17.4 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 1.7 blocks, 1.4 assists, and 4.1 fouls per game. Compare those to Al Horford, who is getting 13.7 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 1.8 bpg, 2 assists, and 2.7 fouls per game. Hmmmmm. Is Al on the way up, while Dwight is on the way down? It’s really too early to tell, but Orlando’s team chemistry has to be a question, one that may be asked in the same fashion that it was late in last season’s playoffs. Of course, when you are 11-3 in your first 14 games, rumblings tend to be below the surface for the most part. Well, when you are a perennial power, that is. When you’re not, EVERYTHING gets called into question. But we wouldn’t do that around here, now would we?
Outside of the game makers/breakers and the superior depth, the Magic present a few other major problems. One will sneak up on you, but another won’t. Another may or may not rekindle an old flaming argument. I’ll let you figure out which is which.
Stat-wise, the casual observor may not be too impressed with the Magic and their big name guys. Vince Carter leads the team in scoring with 18.7 ppg, followed by Dwight’s 17.4, as mentioned above. Big whoop, you say. Jamal Crawford gets nearly 17 off the bench. Ah, but the Magic have six guys averaging double figures in scoring. To put it into greater perspective, the 7th leading scorer is getting 9.9 ppg, and the 8th leading scorer is getting 9.1 per. Get the picture now?
Orlando is also unequivocally balanced. Eleven guys average double figures in minutes. More specifically, the eleventh guy from the top in minutes played per game gets over 18 per (Gortat). The twelfth guy is the only one not getting double figure minutes (Anthony Johnson). He only gets 9.7. If there is a coach in the NBA who seems particularly on top of his players’ minutes, it has to be Stan Van Gundy.
Finally, the Magic are one of the league’s more consistent threats from long range. They shoot 36.7 percent from the arc as a team, and they aren’t at all shy about putting it up. Five different guys are shooting over 40%, all of whom have made a minimum of 35 attempts. A sixth is shooting 38% (Carter) with 60 attempts, and two known 3-point threats have struggled badly (Lewis, Barnes), but are still a threat to go off at that range any given night.
- Matt Barnes is the third leading rebounder on this team. That’s right. MATT BARNES. At 5.7 grabs per game, he trails Dwight Howard (duh…11.1 rpg) and Rashard Lewis (6.5 rpg). Oddly enough, Barnes has only started half of Orlando’s games, and is averaging a decent-but-not-heavy 25.6 minutes per game. Bass averages 4 minutes less per game, but grabs 2.5 less per game. Gortat gets 4.5 in 18.6 mpg. Huh? I thought Barnes was all shooter, and nothing else? Go figure….
Here’s the trick: everybody pitches in. The Magic have ten guys who average at the very least, 2.5 rebounds per game, with most getting 3 or 4 per game. And yet, the Hawks are averaging more rebounds per game than the Magic are, which gives one hope.
The Hawks have to want it. They have to want it like they did in Boston earlier this year. The Magic have a lot to work with, but they are NOT invincible. The Hawks have a chance to prove that the gap between the two teams is not the chasm that many around the league assert that it is. But they have to want, in the worst way.
So what do you think? Can the Hawks shake the past off and expose the southeast neighborhood bully? Who are the key players for the Hawks in this game? Will Hawks fans show up with the REDOUT going strong?
Now you KNOW I couldn’t do this without echoing everybody else and saying, “Welcome back Astro Joe!”
Good to have you back, man. Hang in there and you’ll be back slicing and dicing the b-ball bs, just like old times.