Don’t look now, but the Hawks have nosed ahead of their nemesis. They lead Orlando 2-1 on the season and by half a game in the standings. Only trouble is, the Magic just told the world they care nothing about the regular season or the standings or anything except the playoffs.
On display Monday at Philips Arena were philosophies of polar opposition: With the exception of their head coach, the Hawks are pretty much the same team they’ve been; with the exceptions of Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson, the Magic aren’t the team they were last week.
The Magic made two stunning trades Saturday, dumping four of their top eight players, importing four new ones and perhaps destroying the precise inside-out blend that carried them to the 2009 NBA finals and to 59 victories last season. But credit the Magic for this: They’re going to win a title or fall to pieces — no half-stepping thoughts of “continuity” for them.
That the Hawks beat Orlando decisively if not easily — the score was tied in the third quarter, whereupon Mike Bibby went wild — had less to do with the home team’s excellence than it did with the visitors’ discombobulation. As Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said beforehand: “The Hawks have been together six years; we haven’t been together six hours.”
Also this: “We haven’t even been on a court … We picked up as much as we could in the hotel.”
Said Hawks coach Larry Drew: “When I heard about the [Orlando trades], I was just surprised. I guess that tells you about their situation, and how they felt it was time to change.”
Let the record show that Orlando stood fourth in the NBA East at the time of its reconfiguration, but the Magic didn’t believe the team it had was or would ever be stout enough to challenge Miami or Boston. (Never mind that they’d won 15 of their first 19 games this season.) The Magic were willing to risk of getting a lot worse for the chance of getting a lot better.
Contrast that with the Hawks, who have proved themselves capable of winning a Round 1 series but not so much as a game in Round 2. Yet they’re trying it again with the same guys and are on pace to win four fewer games than last season. Their idea of change was to promote Mike Woodson’s chief assistant to head coach, and they wouldn’t appear to be gaining on the best teams in the East.
So now the question: Do the Hawks need to make a personnel move themselves? Drew: “We’re always looking to improve our team, but there has been no discussion about reacting to what Orlando has done. If something is presented, I’m sure there will be some discussion. But I don’t see any need to panic.”
There’s never a need to panic. There is, however, a necessity to know what you have and what you lack. As constituted, the Hawks aren’t apt to be much different in April than they are today. The Magic could be much worse — or much better.
Orlando is going to lose a bunch more games in the here and now — it has dropped seven of eight, with the next three are against Dallas, San Antonio and Boston — but that’s not the concern. The Magic are pointing toward the postseason by wadding up one game plan and sketching a different one.
They sacrificed their staple standstill shooting to collect more off-the-dribble creators in Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson and Gilbert Arenas. That would be a major redo had it come over the summer; imagine trying it on the fly. As Van Gundy said: “We might as well get the process going.”
For all the Hawks’ happy talk afterward, let’s not read too much into one game. They beat an opponent that’s essentially starting over. (Van Gundy: “We’re not talking about the first game together; we’re talking about the first day together.”) But it’s an opponent that isn’t willing to settle for being pretty good. Unlike, say, the Hawks.
By Mark Bradley