Monday, May 03, 2010

Looking Back At the Regular Season Meetings Bewteen the Atlanta Hawks and the Orlando Magic

The Orlando Magic dominated the Atlanta Hawks in their head-to-head meetings this season. Even in their lone victory, the Hawks demonstrated an inability either to make a high percentage of their shots or rebound their misses at a competitive rate.

On the defensive end, the Hawks have failed to take advantage of Orlando's relatively poor three-point shooting (in head-to-head play) by letting the Magic make 53.7% of their two-point attempts. And that's including the 21-51 shooting performance inside the arc by Orlando in the two-point win the Hawks eked out at home.

Here are the team totals from the four regular season meetings:

Team Poss Off Eff eFG% FT Rate OR% TO%
ATL 87.9
43.6 15.6
15.7 13.9
87.9 1.119 52.8

That's sixteen quarters worth of offensive production on par with what Milwaukee managed in Game 7.

Here are some excerpts from the recaps of each game...

The Magic beat the Hawks 93-76 on November 26th in Atlanta:
The problem with the offense in the second half* was not so much the jump shots or not getting to the free throw line. The Hawks didn't get to the free throw line and took plenty of jump shots in their successful first half. The problem was that the Hawks stopped creating jump shots for each other, took marginally more difficult jump shots themselves, missed a disproportionate number of those jump shots, and didn't get any (well, 4 of 31) offensive rebounds. Of the eleven field goals that the Hawks made in the second half, six earned assists. The Hawks had six assists in each of the first two quarters. The lack of ball movement in the second half even made not turning the ball over (just three in forty-one second half possessions) seem a dubious achievement.

*I recognize that it's not entirely accurate to say "the second half" as the Hawks scored six points on their first three possessions of the third quarter. It's the rest of the second half, the 19 points the Hawks scored on the remaining 38 possessions that troubles.
On January 9th, the Hawks traveled to Orlando. They trailed the Magic by a half-game. The winner of the game would be in first place in the Southeast Division. The Magic won 113-81:
It's unrealistic to expect players, even players as good as Smith and Johnson, to play well 82 times a season. There's no shame in having a bad game. A visibly bad attitude is harder to excuse but a simple demonstration of leadership from the head coach could nip such emotional and psychological weakness in the bud.

On the other hand, there's Al Horford. One would be hard-pressed to make the argument that he's the Hawks' best player but the Hawks are at their best when Horford is the team's most representative player. He always wants to play fast (in an aggressive rather than a hurried sense), he always plays hard, he's efficient both in getting his own points (when he gets the opportunity) and in creating opportunities for his teammates.

Both Johnson and Smith spent the night looking petulant and put-upon but neither had an assignment nearly as weighty as Horford's against Dwight Howard. Horford scored his team-leading 14 points on just 7 shots while playing 18:29 of his 25:43 directly against Howard. A higher percentage of Horford's court time would have been spent playing against Howard had Horford not drawn Howard's 3rd foul* late in the second quarter.

*And a technical on the frustrated Howard. Al Horford does a better job of getting Joe Johnson free throw attempts than Joe Johnson does.
Three weeks later, the Hawks returned to Orlando for a 104-86 thumping:
The Hawks are -67 in three games against Orlando this year. They're +293 in 43 games against the rest of the league. Orlando's a good team. They're also a terrible matchup for the Hawks. Last night's loss drove that home. The Hawks weren't out-shot from beyond the three-point line nor were they killed on the offensive glass and still they couldn't hang with Orlando for 48 minutes. Two of the three things that doomed the Hawks in their first two games against Orlando were, if not fixed, neutralized for a night. That suggests that the fundamental problem the Hawks face against the Magic is making shots.

Atlanta has shot 42.9, 42.3, and 43.8 eFG% in the three games against Orlando and there simply aren't enough extra possessions to be gained by not turning the ball over or grabbing offensive rebounds (especially because Orlando does a great job of negating the latter) to overcome that unless you're an elite defensive team and the Hawks are not.

That the essential problem for the Hawks against Orlando in the first two games was getting the ball in the basket, it's curious that the most significant change Mike Woodson made in the third game was to get Jason Collins and Mario West in the game as soon as possible at the expense of Zaza Pachulia and Jeff Teague, especially considering the contributions Pachulia and Teague made the night before to help defeat Boston. I don't believe that difference between Pachulia/Teague and Collins/West is so great as to have changed the outcome of last night's game but there's no evidence Collins and West made a positive difference.
On March 24th, in Philips Arena, the Hawks won 86-84 to break their six-game losing streak against the Magic:
It wasn't pretty but I think we learned a couple of things about how the Hawks could beat the Magic in a game that doesn't turn on JJ Redick missing a wide-open corner three just before Josh Smith makes a contested 20-footer as the shot clock expires or Joe Johnson not getting called for traveling, thus letting his embarrassing effort at a game-winner stand so Josh Smith could take advantage of a napping Rashard Lewis to slam home the miss at the buzzer.

First, the Hawks have to make their threes, and, because Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford (28 points on 31 shots) will likely be suckered into contested two-point jump shots (14 combined last night, they each made two) by Orlando's defense, that means Mike Bibby and Maurice Evans have to make their threes. They made six of eight last night. Neither can create their own shot so credit to Josh Smith, Johnson, and Crawford who each assisted on two three-pointers made by Bibby or Evans.

Second, the Hawks have to take advantage of as many transition opportunities as possible. There won't be many. Orlando simply won't allow it. But every offensive possession that doesn't come against a set Orlando defense is to Atlanta's advantage. 14 fast break points isn't a lot but when you can't seem to break 86 against a certain opponent, every little bit helps.


Finally, the changes the Hawks made both to when and from where they doubled Dwight Howard early in the game, slowed Orlando's ball movement. They didn't keep up with this half-court run-and-jump as the game carried on, so it remains to be seen if the change is a sustainable improvement or just reliant on the element of surprise.

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