Howard, Nelson Can’t Keep Up With Hawks

Despite an incredible first half stretch by Dwight Howard and a playoff career-high 46 points from the big man, defense and the lack of a third scorer killed any chance of the Magic getting an early series lead on the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks walked away with a 103-93 victory and 1-0 series lead.

After getting off to a terrible start in the first quarter, the Orlando Magic rebounded behind Dwight Howard’s dominance to take a two-point lead at the end of the quarter. Orlando shot just 6-of-18 from the field while the Hawks shot just 8-of-22 in what was an ugly, soppy first quarter. Dwight Howard went wild in the second quarter, scoring 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting. Unfortunately for the Magic, the defense was severely lacking and the Magic allowed the Hawks to score 38 second quarter points on 14-of-18 shooting (77.8%) and took a 55-48 lead into the break.

It appeared as if the Magic may have woken up after Jameer Nelson’s five straight points cut the lead to four, but Nelson was the only Magic player to wake. Orlando continued to get torched on offense as the Hawks scored 30 third quarter points on 10-of-15 shooting (66.6%). The Hawks built a double digit lead that they’d never let get under 10. Nelson’s 20 third quarter points is the only thing that kept the game from becoming completely embarrassing. Orlando looked like they could make a game of it in the fourth but silly turnovers and sloppy play killed any chance of that.

You can read more thoughts, quotes and observations after the jump.

Dwight Howard was incredible throughout the night. He clearly couldn’t quite match his first half production in the second half but he was virtually unstoppable, finishing with 46 points on 16-of-23 shooting and 19 rebounds. He did have some problems with turnovers (eight) and fouls (five), plus he received another technical foul but you can’t find a whole lot wrong with his game. Following the game, Howard was quiet and wore his warm-up shirt to the press conference. He didn’t have much to say and really didn’t do much talking outside of a few short clichés. Instead, Nelson handled most of the postgame.

As Stan Van Gundy correctly pointed out after the game, Orlando’s lack of any scoring outside of Howard and Jameer Nelson (27 points) wasn’t their biggest problem. Defense was the major issue for the Magic. Orlando’s perimeter defenders were awful on the defensive end. The Hawks, who have regressed on offense this season, managed to score 103 points on 51.4% shooting. They also hit six timely three-pointers and outshot the Magic from the free throw line.

“The things that need to be focused on are 103 points and over 50 percent,” Van Gundy told the media.

While Jamal Crawford had to hit some very difficult shots to get his numbers (23 points), the Magic had no answer for Joe Johnson throughout the night. Neither Jason Richardson nor J.J. Redick could cover Johnson, who finished with 25 points on 9-of-16 shooting. The Magic tried to play Quentin Richardson there but Van Gundy thought his offense was too much of a liability. Richardson had two, late costly turnovers as the Magic tried to get back into the game.

“The issue with Q was on the offensive end,” Van Gundy said. “He had those two really bad turnovers.”

Turnovers were again a major issue. The Magic gave it away 18 times, resulting in 21 Atlanta points. Orlando gave it away six times in the fourth quarter alone, stopping any attempt at a comeback.

To further recap this game, Brian Serra offered up his positives, negatives and keys to game 2 here.

Postgame Video:

Joe Johnson, Jamal Crawford & Larry Drew
Brandon Bass
Dwight Howard & Jameer Nelson
Stan Van Gundy

Next Up: The Magic will host the Hawks in game 2 Tuesday night.

Final Thought: Things went poorly for the Magic Saturday night but it’s way too early to panic.

(Andrew Melnick is Howard the Dunk’s lead blogger and ESPN 1080′s Magic Insider (http://espn1080.com). Subscribe to his RSS feed, add him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter to follow him daily. You can download the HTD app here).

Topics: Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks, Brandon Bass, Chris Duhon, Dwight Howard, Earl Clark, Gilbert Arenas, Hedo Turkoglu, J.j. Redick, Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Kirk Hinrich, Larry Drew, Marvin Williams, Orlando Magic, Quentin Richardson, Ryan Anderson, Stan Van Gundy

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