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May 7, 2010
Playoff Prospectus
Half Empty

by Kevin Pelton

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at Orlando 112, Atlanta 98 (Orlando leads series 2-0)
Pace: 82.0
Offensive Ratings: Orlando 135.4, Atlanta 120.6

Give the Atlanta Hawks credit. After their embarrassing Game One beatdown, they not only came out and competed but looked for much of Game Two like they might just steal a win on the road. It took a Jameer Nelson buzzer-beater to ensure the Orlando Magic would lead after three quarters, but the home team dominated the final period, using a 19-2 run early in the fourth to pull away. An 8-1 Atlanta run made the final score respectable, but was far too little and far too late.

The problem for the Hawks ultimately came down to their inability to get stops. Aside from a 17-point second quarter, they allowed 95 points in the other three periods in what was a very slow-paced game (featuring eight and a half fewer possessions than Game One). The Magic got anything it wanted on offense, whether from the paint or on the perimeter. Orlando shot an incredible 64.4 percent (29-45) on two-point attempts and turned it over but nine times. The result was a 135.4 Offensive Rating the Phoenix Suns would envy.

The Magic's offense started, as usual against Atlanta, with Howard in the post. Getting the full benefit of the whistle working against Hawks reserves after Al Horford hit the bench, Howard scored 18 points in the first quarter, making all six of his attempts from the field and six of his nine free-throw tries. Trying to defend him, the Hawks' centers drew a combined seven first-quarter fouls: One for Horford, one for Randolph Morris, two for Zaza Pachulia and three in a span of 1:27 for an entirely overmatched Jason Collins.

When Howard suffered foul trouble of his own during the second quarter, playing less than five minutes in the period, Atlanta was able to rally. Thereafter, the Hawks mostly held Howard in check; he made just two more shots the rest of the night, though thanks to uncommonly accurate shooting from the charity stripe (13-of-18) he finished with 29 points. Still, the threat of Howard's offense was enough to throw off Atlanta's ability to defend the pick-and-roll, which Magic guards Jameer Nelson and Vince Carter exploited time and again.

The third quarter belonged to Nelson, who tallied 13 points in the period--eight of them on layups. When he went to the bench to start the fourth quarter, Carter took over. Playing inspired basketball at both ends of the floor, he had nine points in the first 5:17 of the period to power Orlando's run.

The Magic made up nine points in the third quarter, but the Hawks were still scoring enough to stay in the game. That was thanks largely to Jamal Crawford, who knocked down a pair of three-pointers and scored 10 points in the period. When Crawford subsequently went ice cold, shooting 1-of-7 in the fourth quarter, Atlanta was doomed.

Unlike Game One, there are positives the Hawks can take from this effort. A big reason their offense was so effective much of the night was their ability to get second chances--16 in all, nearly 40 percent of the available offensive rebounds. Atlanta also showed that Al Horford can take over with Howard on the bench. Horford crushed Marcin Gortat during the second quarter, going for 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting and five rebounds. The Hawks went on an 11-2 run after Howard picked up his second foul early in the period. Surely, this won't be the last time Howard has issues with fouls, and that could be Atlanta's opening for an upset.

The Hawks also can feel good that they made the Magic work so hard for a victory. Stan Van Gundy, sensing the game's importance, gave Howard only a brief rest early in the third quarter and rode both Carter and Rashard Lewis the entire second half. That's out of character for Van Gundy, especially considering his team's deep bench.

Still, when both teams were at full strength Orlando's advantages were myriad and obvious. Atlanta is getting nothing out of Mike Bibby right now, and the nominal starting point guard played less than 14 minutes, including 4:13 after halftime (during which the Hawks were outscored by 11 points). Joe Johnson has been disappointing as well, forcing the action too frequently and attempting low-percentage shots. He hit one of six attempts from midrange and was 3-of-12 overall on two-point attempts, so his 19 points were largely meaningless--sort of like Atlanta's halftime lead.

Follow Kevin on Twitter at @kpelton.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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