Vivlamore reporting from Orlando. Here is my game story from the Hawks’ 109-81 win over the Magic.
ORLANDO — The Magic can’t beat the Hawks with Dwight Howard.
Without the All-Star center, it’s just plain ugly.
The Hawks swept the season series from the Magic with a 109-81 drubbing Friday night at the Amway Center. It was a key Eastern Conference victory for the Hawks, who are a win away from clinching their fifth consecutive playoff berth.
The Hawks (35-24) took control of the fifth seed in the conference. They remain two games behind the Pacers for the third spot. Hosting a first-round series remains a real possibility.
The Hawks have seven regular-season games to play, six at home.
The Magic (34-25) have lost all three games to the Hawks this season. The first two losses, both in February, came by a combined five points. Without Howard, they never were in the game.
The Hawks, winners of nine of their past 13 games, were led by Jannero Pargo with 17 points off the bench. In a well-rounded scoring effort, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Marvin Williams each had 16 points. Tracy McGrady and Jerry Stackhouse scored 11 points each, and Kirk Hinrich and Zaza Pachulia added eight apiece. It was a season-high for Stackhouse.
The Hawks finished with 25 assists.
“We did a good job of running the offense, and guys made the extra passes,” Pargo said. “I got some good looks, got in a rhythm and knocked them down tonight.”
Howard missed the game because of back spasms and visited a specialist in Los Angeles on Friday for a second opinion. It was the third consecutive game, and fifth of the past seven, the All-Star has missed with the injury. He was scheduled to return from California on Friday.
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said Howard experienced pain following practice Thursday and wasn’t optimistic he will play at Cleveland on Sunday or versus Philadelphia on Monday. Howard has a herniated disk.
The Hawks also were short-handed. They were without guard Willie Green, who left the team Friday afternoon to be with his wife for the birth of a child, and forward Ivan Johnson, who was sent back to Atlanta for disciplinary reasons. The Hawks lost Pachulia to a left foot injury near the end of the first half. X-rays were negative, but he did not return. Pachulia said following the game that his foot hurt and he was unsure if he would miss any games.
“The fact that we didn’t come in and take this team lightly,” said Hawks coach Larry Drew of what he was most happy about.
“We’ve been in situations this year where key players have been out for the opposition, and we have not played with energy and intensity. I thought tonight we did that from start to finish. We stayed the course of what we wanted to do from a game-plan standpoint.”
There was no letdown Friday.
The Hawks stormed to a 20-point halftime lead, 62-42, ending the second quarter on a 21-5 run. Johnson scored 11 points and Smith scored 10, but the Hawks got points from eight different players.
The Hawks never trailed in the game. Smith scored the game’s first four points, both with Glen Davis trying to guard him.
The Hawks built a 13-point lead after the first quarter by shooting 75 percent (15-for-20) from the field. They made one more 3-pointer (three) in the first quarter than they did in Wednesday’s loss to the Celtics (2).
“The first two plays of the game they ran a play for me and Joe,” Smith said. “If it works the first time we tend to try to milk it until we miss a shot or they make a stop. I was trying to be aggressive and use my quickness. That’s what I was able to do early on to get myself going.”
The lead was 25 by the end of the third quarter. The Hawks made five 3-pointers in the quarter, including three consecutive by Pargo. The lead hit 30 points early in the fourth quarter when Vladimir Radmanovic made a 3-pointer, the seventh Hawk to make one.
The Hawks are 33-5 when scoring 90 or more points.