Five observations from the Hawks’ 98-81 win over the Magic


Five observations from the Hawks’ 98-81 win over the Magic

On the cusp of their longest road trip so far, the Hawks balanced themselves with equal points from starters and the bench (49 each) to run over an Orlando squad not-so-fresh from London for a 98-81 win without trailing.

Al Horford led the starters with 15 points and Paul Millsap logged his 15th double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds, yet Monday’s matinee was one of the Hawks’ better showings because they drilled the Magic without one player putting up huge numbers. And they played good defense, too, as Orlando’s 34.5 percent shooting was a season low for opponents.

The Magic (20-20) are struggling, but after handing Orlando its third consecutive loss and seventh in eight games, the Hawks (25-17) don’t care about that. They need to pack their vibe.

As they lit out Monday night for more than a week and four Western waltzes, they felt better about dancing when in sync.

“It’s good to go on the road playing well,” point guard Jeff Teague said after scoring 14 points on 10 shots. “We know we’ve got to be a lot better on the road … stick together more, be a tighter group on the road than we showed in the past couple games.”

The Magic opened up as if they just got off the plane from London, where they lost to the Raptors Thursday.

Both teams were turning the ball over early but when the Hawks didn’t cough it up, they scored. The Magic mostly missed as Atlanta ran out to a 14-5 lead. That continued; Orlando made just 30-of-87 shots.

Victor Oladipo missed the game because of injury, and the Hawks put the clamps on the Magic’s second-leading scorer, center Nikola Vucevic (10 points), and eventually got a handle on the ball.

Now, will the high-energy themes of back-to-back double-digit wins over the Nets and Magic travel, or does the voodoo from losses last week in Charlotte and Milwaukee make the trip?

All four upcoming opponents — Portland, Sacramento, Denver and Phoenix — are under .500. The Hawks, though, have lost three straight games on the road for sub-.500 teams.

“We would like to go on the road and play well,” said head coach Mike Budenholzer, whose team is 10-10 away from Philips Arena. “We’re going to have to go out and do it on the court. Talking about it at the end of the day doesn’t do coaches or players much good.”

Here are the key players and five observations on the game:

Three key players

Teague: It’s been a while since his impact on a game was so significant. Without putting up eye-popping numbers, he made the Hawks move through much of what he did. Pushed tempo, and made all three of his 3-pointers.

Tiago Splitter: No, he said he’s not healthier than he’s ever been since coming to Atlanta, but he’s playing better than ever as a Hawk. He’s rolling to the rim like mad, hitting the boards and setting stiff screens. This goes beyond his 10 points. His sense of timing and connection with teammates is fast improving.

Millsap/Al Horford: It would not be right to single out either of the primary bigs and not the other. Millsap didn’t try a 3-pointer for a change. All he did was make 6 of 9 shots, dish out six assists and battle Channing Frye, Vucevic and others admirably. Horford likewise did several things well in scoring 15 points on 10 shots. They each blocked two shots.

Five observations

1. Bench keeps busting

For the second consecutive game, the subs came up big. They outscored Orlando’s reserves 49-41, and where Dennis Schroder moved the needle most in Saturday’s win over the Nets with a double-double, Splitter was the flag bearer for the second unit Monday with 10 points and four rebounds. He wasn’t alone. Mike Scott scored 12, Thabo Sefolosha 10 (plus four rebounds and three steals), and Schroder added six points and a game-high eight assists.

“We’ve actually been feeding off them,” Millsap said. “They push the tempo, they get after it on defense, and when you have the whole team contributing, the whole team out there fighting, this is a tough team.”

2. Steady sizzle

This was one of the Hawks’ better games in terms of energy output. Rare were instances where they seemed to drag or lag. As Budenholzer said, “I think it was a pretty consistent effort from our group.”

3. Sloppy start

The Magic weren’t the only team bumbling around at the beginning. The Hawks turned the ball over on five of their first 19 possessions. They were the only team consistently making shots, though, as they finished better than 50 percent for the second straight game (41-of-80, 51.3 percent).

“At one point, there were 12 turnovers between the two teams in the first quarter,” said Magic head coach Scott Skiles. “Both teams were kind of loose with the ball … Our defense was terrible again … and, overall, we looked very slow out on both ends. You do that against a team like that—they shot 51 percent and 47 percent from 3—you’re going to get beat.”

4. Glassworks

The Hawks’ indifference on the offensive glass didn’t hurt because they made so many first shots, but they’re not always going to get away with grabbing a mere four offensive rebounds — unless they keep shooting 51.3 percent.

5. Pack up

After playing well in back-to-back games, albeit against struggling teams, the Hawks better pack the mojo for an eight-day, four-game swing through the West that begins Wednesday in Portland. As the head coach said, “We’re going to have to bring the energy and bring the defense and play through difficult situations on the road.”

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