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Hawks seeking perfect game against Magic
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Hawks vs. Magic

Game 3

When: 5 p.m. today
Where: Philips Arena, Atlanta
Series: Magic leads 2-0

ATLANTA — Hunched over his desk and looking very much like a coach trying to find a way beat the NBA’s hottest team, Mike Woodson kept shaking his head as he glanced at a television showing highlights from the Orlando Magic’s latest win.

Woodson picked apart all the things his Atlanta Hawks can’t do if they want to knock off a team that’s playing better than anyone (sorry, LeBron and Kobe).

“Look at that,” Woodson said, lecturing the reporters assembled in his office Friday. “Al (Horford) is just standing out there. If we kick him the ball, he’d knock down the 15-foot jumper.”

Instead, the Hawks missed, which happened 16 times on the 21 shots they put up in the fourth quarter of Game 2.
“Five out of 21,” Woodson said, shaking his head. “That ain’t gonna cut it.”

Now it’s the Magic, whipping the ball around like the Harlem Globetrotters until they find an open man in the corner, just behind the 3-point stripe.


“Our rotations are slow,” Woodson said, sounding more and more pained.

The Hawks hope a change of scenery will turn things around, but it’s going to be hard for anyone to stop this juggernaut from the sunshine state.

Orlando has gone more than a month since its last defeat, a 112-100 setback at San Antonio on April 2. The Magic has won 12 straight since then, the last six of those in the playoffs. Going back even further, they are on a 26-of-29 roll, clearly a team peaking at just the right time of year.

“They’re as good as anybody out there,” Hawks guard Jamal Crawford said. “I think they’re built for a championship.”

After sweeping Charlotte in the opening round, the Magic has a 2-0 lead on the Hawks as the series shifts to Atlanta for Game 3 at 5 p.m. Saturday.

Orlando romped to a 43-point win in the series opener. The Hawks put up more of a fight on Thursday night, leading by eight at halftime and trailing by only two going to the final quarter. But the Magic dominated the rest of the way, cruising to a 112-98 win.

The Magic has the league’s most dominant center, Dwight Howard, and waves of shooters — Vince Carter, Jameer Nelson, Rashard Lewis — burying shots from the outside. All four scored 20 points in Orlando’s Game 2 victory.

“You almost have to play a perfect game to beat them,” Hawks star Joe Johnson said. “They can beat you both ways: inside and out. It’s tough, man. When you’ve got that combination, it’s hard to beat. They’ve got the winning combination right now.”

Even more troubling for the Hawks, Orlando hasn’t lost back-to-back games in nearly four months. Atlanta absolutely must win the next two games on its home court to have any chance of pulling off an epic turnaround.

“We feel we can play with anybody,” Crawford said, before adding an important caveat, “when we’re playing our best. When we play our best, we can beat anybody. We beat every team in the league this season with the exception of Oklahoma City, and they’re out of it.”

But the Hawks have long been known as a team that goes through maddening lapses — standing around on offense, not getting back on defense — and that’s just what happened in the fourth quarter of Game 2. Orlando quickly seized on the letdowns. Just like that, game over.

As if the Magic needs any additional motivation, they still are viewed by many as the irritating interloper that got in the way of a LeBron James-Kobe Bryant showdown in last year’s NBA finals by knocking off Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals.

These playoffs began with that very same scenario dominating the conversation. James’ Cavaliers are the top seed in the East, and Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers are No. 1 in the West.

The Magic would love to crash the finals party again — and this time capture their first championship.

“Let’s not get it twisted. We all know who everybody wants to see in the finals,” Nelson said. “We just know as long as we continue to play basketball well and do the things we need to do, we’ll be right there with those teams.”

The Cavaliers and Lakers may have the game’s two biggest stars, but Howard and Carter aren’t far behind — and they could very well have the best supporting cast.

“This is a pretty unselfish group,” Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. “We’ve got a group that’s not really into the numbers. I mean, heck, we didn’t have anybody average 20 (points a game). They’re not into the numbers. They’re into winning games.”

They’re doing that as well as anyone — and don’t show any signs of letting up.

“I’m sure some people know how to difficult it is to win that many in a row in the playoffs. Some people don’t,” Carter said. “It’s important for us to continue to come out and just be hungry, just continue to play like each game is the most important game, because it is.”
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