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Defense fails Hawks in 131-120 loss to Magic

The offense was pretty good. The defense was not.

NBA: Orlando Magic at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Atlanta Hawks were riding high (or at least higher) on Tuesday after two straight victories to reach the .500 mark again. In short order, however, the Orlando Magic sent the team scrambling, as the 29th-ranked offensive team in the NBA raced to dominance on that end on the way to a 131-120 victory in Philips Arena.

On the offensive end, the first half was fantastic for the Hawks. The team scored 22 points over the first six minutes of play (including 3 of 3 from three) and that continued to the tune of a 50 percent clip from the floor within the first 12 minutes. All told, Atlanta posted a 115.1 offensive rating and scored 62 (!) points before halftime.

If I told you that, would you believe they trailed by 10 points against the 29th-ranked offense in the NBA? Well, believe it.

The Magic used two big-time runs (15-4 in the first quarter and 10-2 in the second) to take a 10-point lead into the break and that came as a result of 72 first-half points. Orlando converted 59 percent from the floor in the half, committed only two turnovers and, generally, did whatever they wanted on that end of the floor.

Dwight Howard, who scored 17 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, was the individual bright spot for the Hawks and the team put together one of its ten best halves of offense on the season. However, the defense was the culprit in letting things get out of hand and the team faced an uphill battle after the break as a result.

The early stages of the third quarter were (much) kinder for the Hawks, but it wouldn’t last. Atlanta raced out of the locker room with a 17-5 run to reclaim the lead, but it was short lived as the Magic began chipping away with lights-out offense. In fact, Orlando scored 27 points on 55 percent shooting in the third quarter, and while the Hawks scored 34 points to close the gap ultimately, it was not enough.

When the fourth quarter opened, the visitors strung together a 17-7 run and, with that, took a 116-103 lead with 6:11 left on the clock. The home team would claw within a seven-point margin at one point in the closing minutes, but a Serge Ibaka three-point play with 3:15 remaining put the game away for good and the Hawks went down with a whimper and an 11-point defeat.

On a night like this, it isn’t difficult to discern what took place. The Magic did make some heroic shots, led by Jodie Meeks (20 points, 4-6 3-PT) and Elfrid Payton (26 points, 14 assists) playing above their heads offensively, but the team defense for Atlanta was ghastly throughout and that showed on the stat sheet. The Magic made 59 percent of their shots from the floor and 46 percent from beyond the arc, and with the Hawks unable to generate turnovers, that is a recipe for a lopsided home defeat.

There were individual bright spots, including Dwight Howard (20 points, 16 rebounds) and Dennis Schröder (19 points, 13 assists) but no member of the Atlanta Hawks can be happy with this defensive performance and the team will have two days off before their next contest. That game will take place on Friday in Toronto and, if you remember what transpired during the last trip to Canada, nothing can be taken for granted.

Stay tuned.