Feb 23, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Hawks point guard Jeff Teague (0) drives to the basket against Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard (12) during the second half at Phillips Arena. The Hawks won 83-78. Mandatory Credit: Paul Abell-US PRESSWIRE
I will stop short of calling the Atlanta Hawks and the Orlando Magic dysfunctional but are there two other Eastern Conference teams that are more head scratching? As far as the Southeast Division goes that answer would be an overwhelming no and I will point to the Hawks' 83-78 win as evidence.
Consider the Hawks as the team that looked dead in the water after finishing 1-4 on a five-game road trip and limping home to close out the All-Star break without Al Horford, Joe Johnson and Jason Collins who is often the teams designated Dwight Howard defender.
Consider the Magic who had won six of its past seven games coming into Thursday night and had seemingly righted the ship after some early season struggles in the midst of constant Dwight Howard trade rumors. Yet none of that seems to matter now for the Magic who once dominated the Hawks but have now seen that completely shift in the other direction.
Orlando's strategy on Thursday night was head scratching as well. If your team has Dwight Howard and you are trying to convince that same Dwight Howard to re-sign with your team then you have to give him more shots than seven against a team like Atlanta right?
Yet a quick glance at the box score shows Howard 5-7 from the field for 12 points while Hedo Turkoglu, Jason Richardson, Chris Duhon and Ryan Anderson combined to hoist 48 attempts. Turkoglu attempted nine three-point shots which was two more attempts than Howard had the entire game. Even Ish Smith got up seven shots in this game and in case you were wondering Howard played over 39 minutes and had one personal foul. Head scratching?
Now that is not to discredit the defense that Zaza Pachulia played on Howard as he made things tough on the catch but seriously when Z picks up his first foul in the third quarter against Orlando something is terribly wrong.
Even with Orlando deciding to test out how it might be to play without Howard, the Hawks were right there to hand them an 11 point third quarter to erase a big halftime lead.
Josh Smith did most of his work early but turned in another 22 points and 12 rebounds to reaffirm that the Hawks still should have one participant in this weekend's All-Star game festivities. Jeff Teague went at Chris Duhon early as the Magic struggled to keep him out of the paint before once again becoming passive down the stretch. Teague finished with 13 points and two assists in just under 29 minutes.
Teague's lack of minutes tonight can't be blamed on Kirk Hinrich who got the start at shooting guard. Instead that blame goes to Jannero Pargo who couldn't miss in the first half while scoring 15 points on 6-9 shooting in the first half. Willie Green scored 14 points off the bench and made some big baskets late including a three-pointer and a high floating runner from the baseline over the outstretched arm of Howard to keep the Hawks on top.
J.J. Redick led the Magic with 13 points while Howard finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds. Turkoglu added 11 points on 4-16 shooting and Ryan Anderson chipped in 10 for Orlando.
Atlanta successfully snapped a three-game losing streak as they head into the All-Star break but I concur with Jason's earlier assessment that this Hawks team is currently a mess. Whether it is the injuries, the frantic schedule, coaching or simply a point where this group has just stopped working together I don't know. The reality is that the problems are probably a combination of a lot of things but this team clearly needs this weekend to get away from the game and each other.
Hopefully they come back refreshed and can put together another positive streak. Hence we forget this group has made a living in the past of coming back from the dead more times than not.