(Updated: 2:05 p.m.)
ORLANDO — The Hawks are one win from clinching their NBA playoff series against the Orlando Magic. That’s not going over very well in Mouseland.
As you can see from headlines in today’s Orlando Sentinel above — “Curtains for Magic?” and, “A case of swishful thinking” (cute) — some panic has set in. And while we have spent a little time in Atlanta this season discussing the possible ramifications of a quick Hawks’ playoff exit, consider the case of the Magic. General manager Otis Smith could/should be out. Coach Stan Van Gundy is catching some heat. Center Dwight Howard can opt out of his contract next season, assuming he doesn’t try to force his exit before then, which he probably will.
The Hawks? Hey, it’s all good! They’re suddenly the blueprint!
OK. Nobody is going to assume a series victory, even with a 3-1 series lead going into tonight’s game. We’ve seen too much. But I just came from the morning shoot-around and there’s certainly no sense of relaxation.
Here are a few soundbites, without the sound, from the media sessions. I figured I’d bring you this morning’s game-day blog in Digi-Blog style because I had a camera with me anyway and now I can turn in a fake $19.50 receipt for batteries, claiming they were really, really expensive in the hotel.
(Probably shouldn’t have written that. Oh well. Nobody in accounting reads.)
This is the box score from game two. It’s the only game Orlando won. Why am I showing you this? Because for some reason it’s still being projected on one of the video screens in the media work room at the Amway Center — one week after the game. Another attempt to brainwash the media, I suspect.
This is what was being projected on the Magic’s video scoreboard during the Hawks’ shoot-around. Yes. That is a live shot of the freeway. I’m not sure if Orlando was trying choke the Hawks out with “HDTV reality exhaust,” or they just wanted to get an early feel for the party atmosphere downtown leading up to this potential elimination night (hah!). By the way, if you look real close, you can see Hedo Turkoglu’s feet sticking out from under that 18-wheeler.
These are cardboard cutouts of five Orlando players. Or maybe they’re the real thing. It’s been kind of hard to tell at times this series. The one on the left is Jameer Nelson, who assumed Orlando would have an easy time with the Hawks this round.
Jameer insisted on posing for a picture with me. Thanks, pal. Catch you in the second round.
These are Dwight Howard jerseys. The Magic sell them in three different colors. There’s no word on whether Orlando also will be selling Howard jerseys in gold or purple next season when he is playing for the Lakers. Just kidding. Sort of. Josh Smith, Howard’s good buddy, said, “He’s exerted so much energy and he’s played so well, yet they’re still struggling to win games. From the mental aspect, I know it’s frustrating.”
This is Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy. He was kind of funny and even flip with the media today — far looser than you’d expect from a coach facing an elimination game. When asked about fatigue possibly setting in for Howard, given all of the minutes he has played, Van Gundy said: “I don’t want to give away a big secret here before the game. But he will not get a lot of rest tonight.” On whether there will be any carryover from the game three scrap between Zaza Pachulia and Jason Richardson, who return from their suspensions: “Yes. I think they’ll square off at center court.” On his defensive plan for trying to slow down the Hawks’ Jamal Crawford: “We’re going to triple team him. We’ll have two guys guard the other four.” Thank you. Try the veal.
This is Hawks coach Larry Drew, who actually may have more job security than Van Gundy at this moment. Who knew? Drew is saying all the right things about how the Hawks need to play. Unfortunately, he will be in a suit tonight, not shorts. Quoting: “There’s a certain mentality you definitely have to have to close a team out. You play to be the desperate team as well. You don’t play like you have a 3-1 lead. You play like you’re behind 3-1. You play like this is the last game for you.”
Here’s Pachulia. He was suspended last game after head-butting Richardson in game three. Pachulia and Jason Collins both have gotten under the skin of Howard in this series, and Pachulia caught an elbow from Howard in his last game. Pachulia fully expects to be booed tonight. That’s really funny when you consider this: He was a rookie with Orlando back in 2003-04 and was quite popular. Fact is, he was so popular that he was voted the fans’ favorite player. He even made the cover of the team’s in-house magazine. Pachulia: “I was fan favorite — officially. It was voted. … Now I’m the most hated player.”
Hope you enjoyed the brief tour. That’s it for now. I’ll check back with a live blog about an hour before tonight’s game. Any early thoughts on game five?
By Jeff Schultz