ORLANDO, FL - MAY 04: Zaza Pachulia #27 of the Atlanta Hawks battles for a rebound with Dwight Howard #12 of the Orlando Magic in Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Amway Arena on May 4, 2010 in Orlando, Florida. The Magic defeated the Hawks 114-71. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)

Making A Case For The Magic As The New Eastern Conference Favorite

The Magic apparently had plenty of rest. Dwight Howard led the way as Orlando outscored Atlanta by 39 points in the second and third quarters combined in a 114-71 rout of the Hawks in Game 1 of their series. Read more at Peachtree Hoops and Orlando Pinstriped Post.

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After Routing Hawks, Should The Magic Be Title Favorites?

It wasn't supposed to happen like this. Not after the past two seasons. The Hawks were building. After shockingly pushing the soon-to-be-champion Celtics to seven games in the first round in 2008, Atlanta followed up with a short-lived second round appearance last year against the heavily favored LeBrons. But with another year for the young'uns to develop, this was the season they were supposed to push their opponent in the second round. That was the trajectory.

Then Game 1 of the Magic series happened. Granted, it's "just one game" in coach-speak...but teams that lose by 43 points generally don't bounce back to be competitive, let alone win a playoff series (to be fair, the 1956 St. Louis Hawks did manage to dispatch Minneapolis despite losing a game by 58 points, thanks to ekeing out a pair of one-point wins in their best-of-three series). Indeed, Orlando's demolition of Atlanta -- which featured a 60-21 run during the second and third quarters -- should be a stark reminder that the Magic are really, really good, and that the Hawks will be lucky to make it to a Game 5. So much for progressing (and even more depressing for the Hawks faithful is the very real possibility that Atlanta may have already peaked, with Joe Johnson perhaps set to bolt in free agency this summer).

But, really, there shouldn't be too much shame in getting waxed by Orlando (okay, although not by 43 points). Especially when they play near flawlessly, as they did in Game 1, per SB Nation's Orlando Pinstriped Post:

And if you're the Magic, it's hard to find a negative in this game. Really, the team executed about as well as it could have during the game's competitive portions...the Magic, for the first 36 minutes or so of this game, ran their offense to perfection. Everything was inside-out, via a Howard post-up or a dribble-drive. After that, a shot went up or the ball went back out, then moved side-to-side until an open look presented itself.

This type of performance shouldn't surprise us too much. Going back to last year the Magic have been criminally underrated. They were viewed as interlopers last spring, usurping the Cavaliers' appointed place in the anticipated "Most Valuable Puppets" finals between Kobe and Lebron. And they did so without a typical superstar -- sure, dominating doesn't really begin to describe Dwight Howard's defensive impact, but he's, at least not yet, the type of offensive presence that usually captures the imagination. Instead, they relied on a bevy of three-point shooters and Turkoglu as an unconventional point-forward to create mismatches and bombard their way to the Finals.

With the Cavs bolstering their squad with Antawn Jamison and Shaq, the assumption has been that the East is LeBron's to lose this time around. That's the way the script is supposed to go. Sure, the Magic made their own move, picking up Vince Carter on the cheap and jettisoning Hedo Turkoglu, but last season was a fluke...right? Not really. Despite finishing two games behind the Cavs, the Magic boasted the top point differential in the league, which is usually a better predictor of future success than won-lost record -- as you can ask the Mavs, whose gaudy record belied an iffy point-differential mark.

Even more disconcerting for the Magic's opponents is the fact that Stan Van Gundy's team hadn't even played well prior to Game 1 against the Hawks...and they were still winning. Dwight Howard was perpetually in foul trouble in their opening round matchup against the Bobcats, while Vince Carter struggled as well, and yet they still swept the stifling 'Cats. That's what the league's stingiest defense will do for you. And a healthy Jameer Nelson.

With LeBron's elbow apparently a continuing concern and the Lakers entertaining their own question marks (is Kobe healthy enough, will they maintain their focus, etc.), it's time to acknowledge that the real favorites this year are coached by Stan Van Gundy. And this time, even Pat Riley can't take a championship away from him.

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While Series Not Over, 43-Point Loss To Magic Is Hard To Swallow For Hawks Fans

Atlanta did not lose its second-round playoff series against Orlando Tuesday night but memory of the 114-71 loss in Game 1 will not be forgotten easily for the players and, certainly, the fans. The post-game reaction at Peachtree Hoops, SB Nation's Atlanta Hawks blog, was – not suprisingly – glum.

There are losses and then there are losses and this was something beyond a loss.

I mean let's be serious. Anyone that roots for the Hawks let alone has an actual say in the outcome feels like an idiot right now. The Magic are better and the Hawks have serious faults and both truths were played out in such excruciating fashion that it took the hopeful thoughts so far out into killing zone that the fact that the Hawks still have three games to prove they are not the worst team in the history of second round playoffs it seems almost freeing. Almost.

In a 43-point loss, there is plenty of blame to go around. The folks at Peachtree Hoops put a large chunk of it on the shoulders of Atlanta coach Mike Woodson. A sampling:

On Atlanta preparedness:

I do not want to blame all 43 or even 20 of those points on Woody, but he came into this game scared, and I have never seen an underdog team on the road win a game where the coach's strategy was based in fear.

On Woodson's player rotation:

…Mike Woodson just used his bench more against one of the deepest second units in the league. Seriously? Woody is many things. Eye brow shaver, foul out phobic, @#!*% work proponent, but what he is not is a bench believer. Yet he brings out the preseason rotation for this game?

On the Hawks' outlook for the rest of the series:

The Hawks have serious issues moving forward. They have problems for this series and problems next year. None of the five positions are "no worry" issues, but Mike Woodson is solving none of them. Great coaches do not allow this type of game. Great coaches at least make their message of ball movement and team work relevant to the second unit. Great coaches figure out how to tell Josh Smith not to take jump shots.

The facts remain. Orlando is better, this was the worst, and the Hawks can win. Mike Woodson is the hope killer.

Here's hoping Hawks' fans have a better time watching Game 2, which is set for Thursday in Orlando.

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Hawks, Magic Tip-Off Second Round Series In Orlando

Orlando, FL (Sports Network) - Dwight Howard provided 21 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks, and the Orlando Magic recorded one of the biggest wins in team history with a 114-71 drubbing of the Atlanta Hawks in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.

Howard recorded his first double-double of the postseason after running into constant foul trouble in Orlando's first-round sweep of Charlotte. He played only 29 minutes on Tuesday, but it was not because of foul trouble; instead, the Defensive Player of the Year helped the Magic outscore Atlanta, 60-21, over the middle two quarters to rout the Hawks.

"I thought (Howard) played with good poise, good patience down in the post," said Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy. "I thought defensively he was a little tentative early on, but then he started to get involved in the game. Clearly, he dominated the game. When they did come and double (team him), he made good plays. When they didn't double (team him), he made good plays."

Vince Carter added 20 points and six boards for the Magic, who recorded the second-largest margin of victory in franchise playoff history. Jameer Nelson contributed with 19 points, while J.J. Redick had 10 in the lopsided win that saw Orlando shoot 52.4 percent from the field.

Josh Smith had 14 points to lead the Hawks, who are 0-13 all time in conference semifinal series since the round was renamed as such in 1971. Additionally, Atlanta has lost 12 straight conference semifinal games dating back to 1997 after getting swept the last two times it reached this round.

Zaza Pachulia provided 12 points and seven rebounds, while Joe Johnson scored 10 in defeat for Atlanta, which will try to even the series on Thursday at Amway Arena.

The first quarter ended with the Magic ahead, 25-23, but Orlando outscored the Hawks by 39 over the next two quarters to turn the game into a rout.

"We didn't have any juice tonight," said Hawks head coach Mike Woodson. "We'll have to go back and regroup. We didn't play well, we didn't play Atlanta Hawk basketball tonight. It was an ugly game for us on both ends of the floor. I thought we were ready to play...but we didn't put the second, third and fourth quarters together."

The game was tied, 27-27, early in the second, but the Magic scored the next 17 points over five-plus minutes. Redick, Howard and Mickael Pietrus each had five points during the stretch, which ended with a Ryan Anderson basket with five minutes left.

The Hawks scored only 10 points during the entire period, which Orlando finished with a 9-2 run to take a 53-33 halftime advantage.

After Smith's dunk to open the second half for Atlanta, Orlando scored seven straight points, with Howard's three-point play providing a 60-35 lead. The Hawks failed to score in the final 5 1/2 minutes of the frame -- scoring just 11 points in all in the third -- as the Magic grabbed an incredible 85-44 cushion heading to the fourth.

"I was a little surprised with (our lack of rust), especially at the offensive end of the court," Van Gundy said. "I was surprised that we played the way that we did, especially early in the game, but it was good to see."

Atlanta had no chance of making up the deficit in the fourth, and the Magic pulled most of their starters for the final 12 minutes.

The largest margin of victory in Orlando playoff history was 47, which came in a 124-77 win over Boston in the conference quarterfinals on April 28, 1995...The Magic are 9-1 in series when winning Game 1...Orlando has won 11 straight games dating back to the regular season...The Magic won the regular season series, 3-1, and the average margin of victory in the three wins was 22.3...The Hawks beat the Bucks in seven games in the first round...These two teams have met once previously in the playoffs, with Orlando beating Atlanta in five games in the 1996 East semis...Howard finished with three fouls after accumulating at least five in each of the four games against Charlotte...This marked the fifth-highest margin of victory in Orlando history, including regular season play...This is the second-worst playoff loss for the Hawks, who were beaten by 58 on March 19, 1956 against the then-Minneapolis Lakers.

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