Hawks Drop Second Straight Game, Fall 93-89 to the Magic

While preparing to break down the Hawks 93-89 loss to the Orlando Magic last night, I was greeted this morning with these headlines:

Now a disclaimer before I start because I love these two websites and I read them everyday. They are crucial part of my daily RSS feed but I have to wonder if a) they watched the game last night and b) whether they watched any of the games last year. It is easy to dismiss this Hawks team, many have been doing it since the team decided to give Joe Johnson a max contract. Which had they not the same websites would have been reporting that the organization wasn't committed to winning but that is another story. 

More after the jump:  

So I dare ask, what is the gap between the Hawks and the elite? Four points? 93-89? If so then that is a lot better than the average 25 point margin that the "elite" Magic dismantled the Hawks with last year. My intent isn't to smooth over a loss but I am tired of the blatant disrespect and overlooking that this team gets. "New arena, same result"? I think not and it isn't even close to looking like it did last year. Before someone mentions that Jameer Nelson didn't play, save it because neither did either of the Hawks two small forwards. There is a drop off from Nelson to Chris Duhon and Jason Williams but I feel quite confident that the Magic are more capable of replacing Nelson than the Hawks are to replacing Marvin Williams and Mo Evans. 

During the Hawks six game winning streak to start the season the bench had played a big part in those early successes. It is no coincidence that in the last two games they have struggled in what has been two straight losses for the Hawks. The Hawks got off to a great start last night yet only led by two at the end of the first period due in large part to the play of the Hawks reserves. The match up problems that the Magic give the Hawks goes way beyond the first unit and it stretches all the way down to the Hawks reserve bigs trying to check Marcin Gortat. The Hawks bench was outscored by ten (34-24) for the game but the damage perhaps was done in that the reserves could only offer up one assist while turning the ball over eight times. 

Coming into this game I was interested in seeing how coach Larry Drew would game plan for the Magic. For most of the game the Hawks tried to avoid double teaming Dwight Howard. He in return torched them for 27 points on 10-20 shooting. However, the difference this time was that the Hawks were able to keep players like Rashard Lewis and the bench mob of three point shooters that the Magic have somewhat in check. Sure the Hawks got lucky a few times when they lost shooters and the Magic still missed but they dodged the bullet that has buried them time after time after time. Coach Drew had this to say about the game plan:

"I thought our execution of what the gameplan was was right on the money," L.D. said. "We wanted to defend the three; I thought we did a good job of that. We wanted to defend Howardone-on-one; I thought we did a good job of that. We just didn’t make timely plays."

Offensively the Hawks new motion gave the Magic some trouble. Joe Johnson had the best game against the Magic that he has had in sometime as well with 23 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists. The Hawks did a good job for most of the game by attacking the mismatch of Al Horford matched up against anyone other than Dwight Howard, however frustratingly they seemed to go away from that coming down the stretch. Horford talked to Michael Cunningham about the Hawks offensive execution coming down the stretch:

Al said the Hawks lacked organization. "It was taking us too long to get into our offensive sets," he said. "So instead of getting into our plays at 16 or 17 [on the shot clock], we were doing it at 8. That was kind of putting ourselves in a jam."

That is an example of growing pains with a new offense but to my naked eye it still appears that the Hawks are calling a lot of sets in the fourth quarter. Whether it is a high screen and roll or a straight isolation. We tend to forget that the team essentially still is learning the ins and outs of the offense. They seemed to lose composure during one stretch when trailing 84-82 they missed three straight three point attempts (Bibby, Johnson, and Smith) when on at least one of those trips you would have liked to have seen something going to the basket.  You could nitpick this thing down the stretch to death and I am not going to do that. 

The most difficult part about this recap is being happy that the Hawks came out and competed but it is disappointing to know that with better execution they could have stole this game. The challenge for the team is to know that they can now compete with the Magic, but they have to quickly move on from this game. This loss makes Wednesday's home game against Milwaukee that much more important. 

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