Hawks-Magic Preview

On the brink of elimination, Magic players were still lamenting
what has been plain to see for anyone watching Orlando’s
first-round playoff series against Atlanta.

They can’t put the ball in the basket.

”It’s the wrong time to be in a collective shooting slump,”
Magic guard J.J. Redick said.

Now facing a 3-1 deficit in the best-of-seven series, time has
just about run out for the Magic to shake off their shooting woes.
The series swings back to Orlando Tuesday for Game 5 with the Magic
on the brink of suffering their first opening round playoff exit
since 2007.

History is not on Orlando’s side.

Only eight teams in NBA history have won a best-of-seven series
after falling into a 3-1 hole. The Magic have barely shown flashes
of the team that averaged 99 points per game during the regular
season and was in the top of the league in both field goal and
3-point shooting percentage.

Aside from Dwight Howard, who is leading all playoff scorers
averaging 32.2 points per game and shooting 66 percent from the
field, Orlando is a shell of itself.

The Magic are averaging just 90.3 points and three of their
go-to outside threats – Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu and Redick –
are all shooting less than 35 percent from the field, none more
than 23 percent from beyond the arc.

As a team, the Orlando is shooting 40 percent from the field and
just 20 percent from the 3-point line in the series. The Hawks are
at 44 and 39 percent, respectively.

It is almost a complete reverse from Orlando’s Eastern
Conference semifinals sweep of Atlanta last season when the Magic
shot 53 percent overall (39 percent from three-point range),
compared to 37 percent from the field and (29 percent from beyond
the arc) for the Hawks.

Coach Stan Van Gundy said his team got makable shots in Game 4,
but that the mental side of things is what must be overcome.

”On an individual basis as guys are struggling, the mentality
becomes ‘I gotta get myself going,”’ he said. ”And so guys are
really hunting out shots and I think taking tougher ones because of
that…You’ve gotta trust the teammates instead of the idea that we
need some heroics.”

In Sunday’s 88-85 loss, the Magic set a new NBA low for 3-point
percentage by a team in a playoff game, connecting on just 2 for 23
attempts. Some of that is poor shot selection, but the Hawks
defense has certainly played a role and fueled their
confidence.

”We’re doing a great job on the 3-point line,” Hawks forward
Josh Smith said. ”We’ve got to keep that up, just keep doing a
good job at everything: Helping each other at defensive end, share
ball at the offensive end. If we do that, think we’ll be OK.”

Atlanta also remains content to live with Howard’s big numbers
and have defended the perimeter just well enough to throw Orlando
off. It’s also had an unbelievable effort from reserve Jamal
Crawford.

With his team-high 25-point effort in Game 4 Crawford became the
first bench player to score 20 or more points in the first four
games of a series since Kevin McHale did it for Boston in 1991.

There were some trouble signs for Atlanta in Game 4, though.

Aside from letting the Magic back the game after building a
16-point lead, Atlanta also at times reverted back into the
isolation-based offensive sets that have gotten it into trouble at
times. They also did a poor job down the stretch of managing
possessions.

It’s why Hawks coach Larry Drew said ending the series as soon
as possible is paramount.

”It’s very important,” Drew said. ”I’m always talking about
this team growing. To me, them positioning themselves like they are
right now to go into Orlando and to finish this thing off, that’s a
huge step in our growth process…Particularly after what they did
to us last year…it left a bad taste in our mouths.”

The wildcard in Game 5 may center on who wasn’t there in the
previous game for both teams.

Magic starter Jason Richardson and Hawks’ reserve Zaza Pachulia
will both return to action after serving one-game suspensions for
their altercation near the end of Game 3.

Richardson has also struggled to score in this series, but his
presence at least increases the chances that somebody in a Magic
uniform will have a good shooting night. Like Howard, he doesn’t
feel it’s the best approach for the Magic to go into Tuesday
thinking about a ”must-win.”

”That’s the kind of team we have and the type of guys we have.
If we’re uptight and worried about this or worried about that, we
never play at our best. We’re at our best when we’re playing
loose.”

Pachulia’s return could be more vital, as he has done one of the
most serviceable jobs off the bench banging around underneath with
Howard. He said now is not the time to admire what they’ve
accomplished so far, though.

”We still have one more game to win,” Pachulia said. ”But it
definitely will give us a great advantage to finish this series
Tuesday. The last two years, we went to 7 game series it was very
hard. We didn’t have any off time to get any rest. Going to second
round tired and banged up is not a good idea.”

AP Sports Writer Paul Newberry in Atlanta contributed to this
report.