Hawks Make Howard, Magic Look Super
Nothing the Atlanta Hawks and Nick Nolte can't cure.
The NBA's self-proclaimed Superman is back. If only he could play the Hawks every game from here on out, the Magic would romp to the world championship.
Based on Tuesday night's 114-71 cataclysm, they might do it anyway. They are the stealth team nobody has noticed. Maybe Howard needs to wrap his elbow, wince a lot and start shooting free throws with his left hand.
But before we get carried away with Orlando's pending championship parade, a word from the league's reigning curmudgeon.
"You gotta let it go. It's one game," Stan Van Gundy said. "In the playoffs, margin means absolutely nothing. It does not matter. It should not lead to a false sense of security."
False sense? How about a true sense?
Tuesday night was merely the continuation of a season-long Atlanta theme. Forget winning a game. The Hawks' goals should be to muster some self-respect, keep the margins of defeat under 30 points and start calling Jeff Van Gundy, Eddie Van Halen or Martin Van Buren.
Anyone besides Mike Woodson will be coaching Atlanta next season. His team had lost five of six to the Magic. They were 1-3 this season, losing by an average of 22.3 points.
Howard was a beast in every game. So what adjustments did Woodson make?
"I wore a new tie," he said. "Apparently it was too tight and cut off the oxygen to my brain."
Woodson didn't really say that. I had to make something up in his defense. But seriously, you have to wonder whether Woodson bothered watching the Orlando-Charlotte series.
The Bobcats did everything except tase Howard. In the process, Larry Brown reduced him to a whiny brat. Howard fouled out of two games and stayed on the court for only 26 minutes a game.
He was only on the court 28 minutes Tuesday night. That was because he had 21 points and 12 rebounds in just over a half. And Van Gundy didn't want the Magic to score 200 points.
"The first round is over with," Howard said. "I don't remember it."
When you make $15 million a year, you forget $35,000 fines for criticizing the officials. Howard credited his beneficial memory loss to a movie recommendation from his father.
"Jor-El told me to watch it," he said. "You know who Jor-El is, right? That's Superman's dad."
Jor-El Howard told his son to watch "Peaceful Warrior." It's a 2006 movie starring Nolte as a mysterious wise man named Socrates. He guided a young gymnast back from a knee injury using terms like "A warrior acts. A fool reacts."
After reacting like a fool against Charlotte, Howard went warrior against the Hawks. It helped that Atlanta rarely attempted Charlotte's defensive techniques.
Howard got the ball just about wherever he wanted and whenever he wanted. That raises the Ancient Greek Jeopardy question:
Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Woodson. Which name doesn't belong?
I'm probably being too hard on the Hawks coach. When he did double-team Howard, Orlando's center just fed one of the team's 3-point snipers. When they are on, the Magic can make any team look like the Hawks.
They led 25-23 after 12 minutes. Atlanta scored 21 points in the next two quarters. The entire second half was essentially garbage time chuckles for Orlando.
You just know David Stern turned to his aide at one point and asked, "What's a Marcin Gortat, and why is he continually dunking on Atlanta?"
Really, coach Woodson. Que pasa?
"I wish I knew," Woodson said. "Your guess is as good as mine."
My guess is Atlanta isn't exactly the most disciplined defensive team in NBA history. And when the going gets tough, the Hawks turn into a bunch of panicky jump shooters.
"We didn't play Atlanta Hawks basketball tonight," Woodson said.
When it comes to the Magic, they did. The Hawks won't shoot 34 percent every game. But there's a reason Orlando has quietly won 25 of 28 games while everybody's been fixated on LeBron's elbow and Kobe's aching (fill in the blank).
The Magic are very, very good. Better than last year, when they made the NBA Finals. As Socrates said in "Peaceful Warrior:"
"Take out the trash from what's inside your head."
If Howard does that, garbage time has just begun.