Magic-Hawks Preview

Stan Van Gundy says he’s getting tired of all the flopping by

Atlanta’s big men. The Hawks accuse Orlando star Dwight Howard of

being a little too loose with his elbows. And Jason Richardson sums

up his feelings about Zaza Pachulia this way: ”I don’t like

him.”

Yep, this Eastern Conference playoff series is getting downright

testy.

The NBA tried to tone things down a bit Saturday by handing

one-game suspensions to Richardson, one of Orlando’s top outside

shooters, and Pachulia, the Hawks’ burly backup center, after their

altercation in the closing minutes of Game 3.

The league’s disciplinarian, vice president Stu Jackson, was on

hand for the contest at Philips Arena and needed less than 24 hours

to announce his decision Saturday.

Pachulia will sit out Sunday night’s game for head-butting

Richardson. The Magic player was suspended for shoving Pachulia in

the face. Both also will forfeit one game’s pay.

With about 2 1/2 minutes to go Friday night, Pachulia took

exception when Howard swung his elbow after a hard foul, responding

with an elbow of his own. Richardson jumped in and was head-butted

several times by Pachulia as they jawed with each other. Richardson

responded with a slap to Pachulia’s face before Howard pulled away

his teammate.

Pachulia and Richardson were both ejected, and Howard received a

technical. The Hawks won 88-84 to take a 2-1 lead in the

series.

The NBA didn’t punish Howard.

”I’m not trying to be dirty. But I never back down from

anybody,” Pachulia said. ”It’s just my character. When I feel

like I’m disrespected, I’m there. I’m not backing down. That’s what

happened. It might be a bad thing, but everybody has their own

personality. That’s my personality.”

Richardson said he has no regrets either, except for having to

sit out a potentially pivotal game. He plans to watch the game on

television at the team hotel.

”I’m not sorry for what I did,” he said. ”But I kind of feel

bad because I’m not there for my teammates.”

The best-of-seven series has taken on a nasty tone. The Hawks

accuse Howard of freely swinging elbows when he gets in the lane,

while Orlando’s coach said Atlanta’s big men tend to fall down

anytime someone gets near them.

Specifically, Van Gundy mocked 7-footer Jason Collins for going

down in Game 3 on a charge by Orlando’s 6-foot point guard, Jameer

Nelson.

”One thing that frustrates me is all the flopping,” the

outspoken coach said. ”It’s amazing to me how many times guys as

big Jason Collins and Zaza Pachulia get knocked down. You’d think

they’d be able to stand up a little bit better.”

Collins hasn’t been too pleased with some of Howard’s tactics,

either.

”When the whistle blows, it doesn’t end for him,” Collins

said. ”You’ve got to protect yourself at all times.”

At first glance, the suspensions would seem a bigger blow to

Orlando. The Magic certainly feel that way, losing their

second-leading scorer during the regular season (15.6 points a

game) and one of their main defenders on Atlanta star Joe

Johnson.

Pachulia is a backup, but the Hawks will clearly miss his

emotional style and defensive presence against Howard, who was held

to 21 points in Game 3 without a lot of double-teaming, allowing

Atlanta to play straight up against Orlando’s outside shooters.

”Certainly, he’s been an energizer for us,” Hawks coach Larry

Drew said. ”He brings another level of energy with his hustle,

with his aggressiveness, with his physicality. That’s what playoff

basketball is all about.”

The 6-11, 275-pound Pachulia readily conceded that he banged his

forehead into Richardson’s several times.

”Maybe the first one or two were a manner of talking. But the

third one was a big one,” the Hawks player said. ”That’s a tough

situation. Your nerves, tensions are high, people are screaming

your name and you just lose yourself.”

The Magic felt Pachulia deserved a stiffer penalty.

”It’s a little unfair,” forward Ryan Anderson said. ”You

can’t just sit there and take a blow like that, three times, from a

head-butt. You can’t just let that happen. It’s a natural instinct

to come back at somebody. It’s not like he punched him. It was just

a little push-away. I think it’s a little ridiculous. But what are

you going to do?”

Without Pachulia, the Hawks will likely go with a combination of

Collins and little-used Etan Thomas against Howard. Collins played

only 17 minutes Friday after taking a hard charge from Howard,

landing on his tailbone. He said it felt better a day later and

there’s no doubt he’ll be able to go Sunday. The 6-10 Thomas missed

Game 3 to attend his grandmother’s funeral and played only 13 games

during the regular season.

”We still have some big bodies,” Drew said. ”But the

million-dollar question is will those bodies be as effective as

Zaza has been? That remains to be seen.”

The Magic could turn to Gilbert Arenas to fill some of the

scoring void with Richardson out. But the one-time star known as

Agent Zero didn’t play at all in Game 3, and Van Gundy wouldn’t

commit to a larger role Sunday.

Someone will have to step up.

”Jason is a key factor on this team,” Anderson said. ”He’s

one of our main scorers, a go-to guy. It’s going to be tough

without him on the court.”

As Pachulia talked at his locker, Hall of Famer Dominique

Wilkins walked up and gave a quick display of shadow boxing.

Wilkins, who’s now a Hawks executive and broadcaster, threw

punches at a former NBA referee who confronted him after a game

last month in a dispute over a clothing bill.

Pachulia smiled and pointed at Wilkins.

”I’ve been learning from that guy,” the center quipped.