Hawks remember playoff mauling;Atlanta looks to boost confidence after being swept by division

It’s just a preseason game for the
Hawks so the result won’t count in
the standings and the particulars of the contest figure to be
forgettable.

Yet because it’s not just any opponent tonight at Philips Arena
this exhibition game could be more significant than most.

“It’s the Orlando Magic,”
Hawks center Zaza Pachulia said.
“Obviously, we all remember what happened last year.”

There are 101 reasons Atlanta will never forget. That was the
NBA-record victory margin for Orlando in its four-game sweep of the

Hawks in the Eastern Conference
semifinals last May.

The fallout for the
Hawks included vitriol from their
fans and the eventual dismissal of coach Mike Woodson. The way the
Hawks lost, barely putting up a
fight, was a sharp rebuke to the organization’s contention that the
team was close to joining the East’s elite.

The
Hawks won’t change any minds with a
preseason victory against Orlando but perhaps they can take some
small step to restore their pride.

“You want to set the tone from the beginning,” Pachulia said
“You want to make them feel like we are not the same team as last
year [and] we got better and we are here to work.”

The
Hawks largely are the same team from
a personnel standpoint. Team owners and general manager Rick Sund
decided their philosophy of keeping the team’s core intact had not
run its course, viewing the listless loss to Orlando as part of a
growing process.

If that’s the case, the Magic should have stimulated plenty of
growth for the
Hawks by now.

Counting that playoff series, Orlando has won eight of its last
nine games against Atlanta. The average losing margin for the
Hawks in those games was 23 points
and all the losses were by at least 14 points; their 114-71 loss in
Game 1 of the East semifinals was the franchise’s worst postseason
loss since moving to Atlanta in 1968.

If the
Hawks expect eventually to become a
serious championship contender they can start by proving they can
compete with their Southeast Division rival.

“Certainly after what happened last season, after what they’ve
accomplished against us, we have to look at them as a team that is
certainly standing in our way,” said
Hawks coach Larry Drew, Woodson’s
former lead assistant. “We are trying to reach our goal. We have to
prepare ourselves against them throughout the regular season. They
have shown to be one of the better teams in the East and the
league.”

After rolling past Atlanta the Magic lost to Boston in the East
finals. The Celtics had the players to defend Orlando center Dwight
Howard one-on-one and thus didn’t have to risk leaving Orlando’s
many shooters open by double teaming.

The
Hawks this summer focused on
signing a center to deal with Howard but they struck out on
Shaquille O’Neal, who instead went to Boston. Atlanta has Pachulia,
Jason Collins and Etan Thomas behind All-Star center Al
Horford.

The Magic also return most of the same players but, unlike the
Hawks, they can stake a claim to
being true contenders after earning berths in the 2009 Finals and
last season’s East finals.

“At the end of the day, they are always there at the top,”
Hawks guard Jamal Crawford
said.

Drew said the Magic “are looking like a team that is on a
mission” in the preseason. Among their four exhibition victories
are a 105-67 victory over Chicago and a 135-81 defeat of New
Orleans, with the latter representing Orlando’s largest-ever
preseason victory margin.

Drew said the
Hawks, meanwhile, “still have a
ways to go” before opening the season Oct. 27. Atlanta won its
first preseason game Saturday against New Orleans but Drew said
he’s still not happy with the defense, rebounding and
turnovers.

So there are incentives beyond last spring’s embarrassment for
the
Hawks to play well against
Orlando.

“We need to have confidence going into the regular season,”
Pachulia said. “We only have [three exhibition] games left. You
want to feel good about yourself going into regular season. There’s
a lot of reasons to take this game seriously.”

Next for
Hawks

Who: vs. Magic

When: 7 p.m. today

TV; radio: None; 97.9 FM