Credit the Hawks for doing what they had to do which was taking care of business at home against a team that had a tall task of incorporating some new parts into their system. I don't necessarily think that the Orlando Magic will continue to struggle the way they have of late. Stan Van Gundy is too good of a coach and they do still have Dwight Howard after all and that isn't a bad way to start.
If you have followed Peachtree Hoops then you have read what myself and Jason Walker have both said about the Magic being a bad match-up for the Atlanta Hawks in the past. Vince Carter has always been a thorn in the side of Atlanta dating back to his days with the Raptors. While I don't necessarily call him a great defender by any means he seemed to be more than adequate against the Hawks. Rashard Lewis was a 6'10" power forward with three point range but again his length on the defensive end was a big factor.
Now the intent isn't to sell short Jason Richardson, Gilbert Arenas, or Hedo Turkoglu as players but I do think that the Hawks match-up with them much better than they did in the past. Looking at tonight's 91-81 Hawks victory as an example, coach Larry Drew decided to start the big lineup of Mike Bibby, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Al Horford, and Jason Collins. That essentially matches Horford against new Magic starter Brandon Bass or Malik Allen. What Horford's 24 points and 11 rebounds suggest is that he clearly won that match up tonight.
The shooting numbers weren't pretty for Josh Smith tonight (3-14) but on most nights I like Hedo Turkoglu or Quentin Richardson being forced into guarding him. Smith was a huge factor on defense in this game and was still able to come up with a double double finishing with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
Joe Johnson struggled out of the gate before finding a little spurt to begin the third quarter. He still managed to finish with 17 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists. He was a team high +16 in +/- stats as well. With Orlando's roster reshuffle they now don't have a great answer for Johnson. Jason Richardson isn't really big enough to slow down Johnson and neither is Gilbert Arenas, Quentin Richardson, or J.J. Redick. Joe didn't shoot the ball well tonight going 7-18 from the floor but the Hawks repeatedly ran him into the post or let Joe back down his defender which forced Orlando into a double team. The shooting numbers haven't been pretty since he returned but I have a hard time believing that he will continue to shoot this poorly as he is still getting good looks.
Coach Drew's decision to start Jason Collins came at the expense of Marvin Williams in the starting lineup. Williams was able to breath a little sign of life out of the bench finishing with 12 points and 9 rebounds in 26 minutes of action. The rest of the bench combined to score six points although Zaza Pachulia did grab seven rebounds in eleven minutes of action. Jeff Teague played only eight minutes but that had as much to do with Mike Bibby scoring 15 points on 5-13 shooting as anything. The starters played some heavy minutes tonight with four of the five playing 38 minutes or more but I was pleased with the rotations and with Marvin coming off the bench.
Some interesting numbers from this game as the Hawks were able to force the Magic into 35% shooting from the floor. They only hit 4-17 from three point range. Dwight Howard ended with 19 points and 20 rebounds but the Hawks played him straight up and Jason Collins was able to at least make him work for what he got. Howard was only 6-14 from the floor and Atlanta will take that every single time. Atlanta assisted on 23 of 33 field goals while the Magic were only able to come up with 15 on 25 makes. Surprisingly the Hawks controlled the glass out rebounding the Magic 51-38. When Howard was off of the floor the Magic were very small and the Hawks were able to take advantage of the absence of Marcin Gortat. Turnovers once again kept Atlanta's opponent in the game as they turned it over 16 times which led to 23 points for the Magic. Conversely Orlando only turned the ball over 12 times.
With the Hawks struggles against Orlando the last few seasons there is no way that I am going to nit pick a victory over them no matter the circumstances. Atlanta never really found a rhythm offensively but where able to grind out the victory. Kudos to the players and the coaching staff for bouncing back with a big win after a less than stellar effort in New Jersey on Sunday.
Exit Question: Is it time to consider going with the big lineup with Jason Collins starting at center full time?