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