Magic can’t overcome 1st-half deficit in loss
ATLANTA (AP) — It’s safe to say the Orlando Magic were disgusted with their performance Thursday night.
With the All-Star break beginning Friday, the Magic didn’t want their 83-78 loss to the Atlanta Hawks to resonate, so they held a brief players-only meeting in hopes of correcting some bad habits.
“We need to be depending on each other as a team,” forward Ryan Anderson said. “We need to rely on each other, keep each other accountable. We haven’t been playing that great and we’re still third in the East, so we must be doing something right. But it just shows that we could be that much better.”
Josh Smith scored 22 points and pulled down 12 rebounds to help the Hawks snap a three-game skid with the victory.
J.J. Redick finished with 13 points and Dwight Howard had 12 for the Magic, who had won two straight and six of seven.
“Our energy was bad,” Redick said. “When we play that way, we’re bad. We have to figure out a way to eliminate that.”
Howard, the six-time All-Star center who led the league in fan voting and has been the subject of trade speculation this season, suggested that the Magic aren’t too far from correcting their mistakes.
“You’ve got to stick together and buy into what we’re trying to accomplish and go from there,” Howard said after the meeting that lasted between 8-10 minutes. “My focus is just to keep the guys in the locker room together despite what’s being said on the outside.”
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy was more succinct.
“I’ve been saying it to you guys, and I come off as negative all the time — we don’t play hard enough,” Van Gundy said. “We just don’t. We’re not going to be anywhere near contenders in the East unless we’re going to play hard all the time and we don’t. Simple as that.”
Hawks leading scorer Joe Johnson missed his second straight game with left knee tendinitis, but Atlanta got 36 points from their reserves, including Jannero Pargo with 15 and Willie Green with 14.
The Magic recovered from a 10-point second quarter by scoring 25 in the third to pull within three heading into the final period.
Howard’s lay-in cut the lead to 69-68 with 4:42 left, but the Magic never got any closer.
“We’re going to have games like this,” Howard said. “But for us to contend, one thing that has to be consistent is our effort. We’ll be fine. People in this locker room know what’s going on. They understand it’s about us.”
Green hit a 3-pointer from the left wing with 3:16 remaining and followed with a fast-break runner over Redick to make it 74-68.
Pargo scored 12 points in the second quarter, including consecutive possessions that made it 41-28 after he hit a 3-pointer and a 16-footer on assists from Tracy McGrady.
The Hawks led 47-30 at halftime, thanks in part to a 21-2 advantage on fast-break points and a 28-18 edge in rebounds.
Atlanta missed its first five shots of the first quarter and last six of the second, but hit 58.3 percent of 36 attempts in between.
“When we’re playing defense and playing energetic the way we’re capable of, we’ll be in the game at the end and have a chance to win,” Green said. “That was the difference.”
Pargo’s 19-footer with 3:21 left in the second ended the first-half scoring, but he bent over in pain after running into Howard’s screen late in the third quarter and was never again a factor.
Smith missed nine of his last 11 shots after scoring 14 points in the first.
Atlanta had lost five of six and eight of 11 overall, but the Hawks took their sixth straight win at Philips Arena over the Magic.
“We understood the importance of this game,” Smith said. “They dominated us for so many years. We wanted to try to be able to return the favor.”
After Howard’s three-point play with 1:26 remaining made it 74-71, Green scored a wild runner from the left baseline over Howard’s outstretched arm to give the Hawks a 76-71 lead.
Atlanta guard Jeff Teague finished with 13 points, while Anderson and Magic forward Hedo Turkoglu combined for 22 points on 8-of-29 shooting.
Anderson has heard Van Gundy talk about the team’s energy all season. He believes the coach is right that the effort needs to improve.
“There’s a lot of areas to improve in,” Anderson said. “We just need to control the areas we can control in the second half (of the season), come back, know our roles and bring a ton of energy.”
NOTES: The Magic were without PG Jameer Nelson, who missed the game with a strained left knee. Chris Duhon, who started in his place, finished with six points, four assists and five fouls. …. Smith had 23 points and 19 rebounds in the Hawks’ 89-87 overtime win at Orlando on Feb. 10. … Atlanta outscored the Magic 25-12 in fast-break points and 38-36 in the paint. … Orlando reserve F Quentin Richardson scored a team-high five points in the second, but did not return to the game because of a strained left Achilles tendon. … Atlanta improved to 4-8 this month.