Vivlamore reporting from Orlando.
ORLANDO – The Hawks are preparing for a less predictable Magic team tonight as Orlando will be playing without All-Star center Dwight Howard.
That could be an issue considering past games when the Hawks have, admittedly, relaxed with the opposition was without its star player.
“It’s really a fool’s gold type of game,” Willie Green said. “When a team doesn’t have their best player, the opposing team, which is us, seems to take them lightly. That is something we are careful about not doing. We want to come out and play a good all-around game and execute. They are still a good team without Dwight. Obviously they are a better team with him. We are looking to come in and be the best Atlanta Hawks team we can be.”
Remember the Hawks lost, at home, to the Dwyane Wade- and LeBron James-less Heat earlier this season.
“I think our mental approach has to be the same,” Marvin Williams said. “We have to be even more focused. In the past, when other team’s stars have gone down, we have a tendency to relax a little. That is something that just can’t happen right now.”
Howard missed four of the past six games with back spasms. He went to Los Angeles to see a specialist. Tonight will be the third straight game out of the lineup.
Hawks coach Larry Drew said the absence of Howard will present his defense with a different challenge.
“Anytime you play Orlando your focus is how do you stop or slow down Dwight,” Drew said. “It will be different tonight with no Dwight certainly you have to look at how will does it change them and what will they do. I think they become more dangerous club because they become less predictable with what they are going to be doing, what they are going to be running. More guys will be involved and get touches, more guys will look to score. They do have guys who are capable of scoring. It will be a little different for us because we’ve always faced Dwight. We are going to have to lock in to some of the other key matchups.”
Drew mentioned Jameer Nelson, Ryan Anderson, Jason Richardson and J.J. Redick by name as matchups that will be keys from a defensive standpoint.
Not to be lost in all the Howard-less Magic hype is the importance of this game in the Eastern Conference playoff race. The Hawks, Magic and Celtics all have the same record at 34-24 and are two games behind the Pacers for the third seed.
Williams didn’t mince words about the game.
“It’s almost a must-win for us,” Williams said. “We are still pushing to get that third spot. It’s still possible. Indiana has been playing extremely well, but with us and Boston and Orlando having the same record, this game will be very big for us, for sure.”
As I reported earlier, the Hawks will be without Ivan Johnson for the game.
- Chris Vivlamore