Fast Breaks: Magic-Hawks, Game 3
GM Rick Sund may have to make changes after another poor Atlanta showing
Atlanta free-agent-to-be Joe Johnson hasn't done himself many favors, either
Orlando's win streak is a combination of strong play and inferior competition
The Orlando Magic won yet another laugher over the Atlanta Hawks, a 105-75 victory that kept Orlando as the only undefeated team in the 2010 playoffs and gave them their 13th consecutive win and 27th in the past 30 games. As much as the outcome of this game makes one wonder just how good this Orlando team is, it also raises some serious questions about the Hawks, since no team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven series.
Is Mike Woodson's job secure? You'd think that a coach who takes a team to the second round of the playoffs would be safe, but there are mitigating circumstances. First, Woodson is not general manager Rick Sund's coach; Sund inherited Woodson when he took over for Billy Knight. Secondly, this Hawks team has raised many questions, and not just because it lost all three of these games by double digits and two of the three by at least 30 points. These problems started in the first round, after two dominating wins over Milwaukee was followed by three straight losses and forced Atlanta to win two life-or-death games in order to advance. Whether these issues are Woodson-related or chemistry-related are for Sund to answer, but they certainly are present, probably the reason the circumspect Sund has not given Woodson a contract extension.
What do these playoffs mean for Joe Johnson's future? Johnson has always been considered in the middle somewhere, better than most second-tier superstars but not quite as good as the top-notch guys like LeBron James or Dwyane Wade. This series against Orlando has exposed him a bit, particularly after his 3-for-15 shooting, eight-point outing in Game 3. Not only has Johnson failed to be productive for his team, he also has seemingly failed to rally them in any meaningful way. The Hawks have terrible body language and seem to lose their fighting spirit as soon as things go sideways, and Johnson's low-key demeanor does nothing to inspire a change. With Johnson among this summer's better class of free agents, potential suitors almost certainly have to ask themselves if they want to bestow a maximum contract on a good-but-not-great player who allowed his team to be pushed to the limit in the first round and failed to show up at all in the second round.
Do the Hawks need to be retooled? Woodson's future is not the only decision Sund is going to have to make this summer. Essentially, he will have to evaluate and determine whether this Hawks team is capable of legitimately competing in the future. Assuming James is not leaving Cleveland and Orlando stays the way it is, if the Hawks do not make improvements, they are moving backward. Being in the playoffs is great for an organization that was mediocre for so long, but at some point fans and ownership begin to ask for more. Sund has not had to do a great deal since stepping in because this team was, for the most part, already constructed; now comes the tough part.
How good is Orlando? The Magic certainly possess the look of a team that can compete for a championship. The question that must be asked is whether the Magic have played that well or have their competition been that weak? Probably a little bit of both, but there is no doubt that their interior-exterior attack is clicking perfectly. Dwight Howard seemed virtually non-existent in this game, in part because he picked up two early fouls, and still ended up with 21 points and 16 rebounds. His teammates combined for 10 3-pointers and probably could have had many more had the outcome not been decided by halftime. As the Cavaliers and Celtics hammer each other in the other Eastern Conference series, the Magic conceivably could get a week of rest if they are able to close out this series Monday night.
Magic rediscover another weapon. With Howard dominating the middle all season, Rashard Lewis has been content to stand on the outside and fire up three-pointers. But Magic coach Stan Van Gundy put Lewis in the post in Game 3 and Lewis did extremely well. It is something Lewis used to do on a regular basis when he played in Seattle, but he has not been required to play that role as much with Howard such a force. Assuming Van Gundy uses the option more, it could prove something else with which the Cavaliers or Celtics have to contend in the conference finals.