NBA: Magic blow out Hawks again for 3-0 series lead
AP Sports Writer
ATLANTA — Orlando keeps on winning, even when Dwight Howard doesn't stand out.
One more Magic victory will finish off the Atlanta Hawks.
Rashard Lewis scored 22 points and the backups helped Orlando pull away early with Howard on the bench as the Magic romped to another playoff blowout, moving to the brink of their second straight sweep with a 105-75 victory over the Hawks on Saturday.
Howard had 21 points and 16 rebounds but was hardly dominating. No problem for the Magic, who have so many complements to Superman and allowed many of them to shine in Orlando's seventh straight postseason victory and 13th straight win overall.
Lewis knocked down four 3-pointers. Jameer Nelson scored 14 points. Mickael Pietrus chipped in with 13, hitting three shots from outside the arc. Marcin Gortat, Howard's backup, grabbed six rebounds in less than 10 minutes. All 10 Orlando players who got on the court made it to the scoresheet.
The Magic are up 3-0 in the best-of-seven series, winning by an average margin of 29 points. Game 4 is Monday night, and about all the Hawks are playing for is pride. No NBA team has ever come back from such a daunting deficit, and the challenge looks even greater considering how well the Magic are playing.
Atlanta never led in this one and was trailing 24-16 when Howard picked up his second foul with 1:45 left in the opening quarter. Even with its big man on the bench, Orlando just kept adding to it lead.
Lewis hit a jumper and Gortat flew through the lane for a dunk that gave the Magic a 28-18 lead after one period. The Hawks never got the margin under double figures again.
Orlando dazzled with crisp passing, always seeming to find the open man. Nelson swished a 3-pointer to make it 33-20, prompting Atlanta to call an early timeout in hopes of finding something, anything to slow the Magic.
Even with only one starter on the court, Orlando kept the Hawks in check. By the time Howard returned to the game with just under 7¼ minutes left in the first half, the Magic were comfortably ahead 38-24. After Mike Bibby missed a 3-pointer, Howard grabbed the rebound and the Magic worked the ball to Pietrus for a 3-pointer that stretched the margin to 41-24.
The Magic went to the locker room with its biggest lead of the half, 52-33, after a most telling sequence. The Hawks failed to beat the 24-second clock and Orlando went to the other end for yet another trey from Lewis. Atlanta fired up one final miss ahead of the clock, leaving the court to a round of boos from the home crowd.
Showing his frustration, Josh Smith pushed away a cameraman who was attempting to follow him off the court.
The Hawks shot only 35 percent (29 of 83), and their best player was the biggest culprit. Joe Johnson made only 3 of 15 attempts to finish with eight points. Jamal Crawford led the Hawks with 22 points.
Late in the third quarter, Orlando stretched its lead to 26 points. At that point, Howard's numbers looked rather mortal — 11 points and nine rebounds. He did the bulk of his scoring and rebounding after the game was long since decided.
Not too many fans were around for the ending. When J.J. Redick swished a 3-pointer to make it 88-59 with more than 8 minutes remaining, many in the crowd popped out of their seats and headed for the exits.
The Magic led by as many as 31 in the final quarter — not quite as dominating as their 43-point win at home in Game 1, but not too far off considering this rout came on the road.
Orlando hasn't lost in more than a month, and the Hawks — a 53-win team that claimed the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference — surely don't look like a group that has any chance of ending that streak.
The Magic's last defeat was a 112-100 setback at San Antonio on April 2. They have lost only three times in their past 30 games, showing they are very much a team that can challenge the two No. 1 seeds, Cleveland and the Los Angeles Lakers.
As for the Hawks, the end is near.
This is a team that could be headed for a major overhaul despite five straight years of steady improvement.
Johnson heads into free agency this summer, and there's no assurance the Hawks will be willing to give up the maximum deal it will likely take to keep him. Coach Mike Woodson's contract is up, as well, and the team has declined to even start talks on a new agreement until after the season.