Second Sweep Has Magic Thinking Big
ATLANTA -- It's hard to imagine things falling into place any better right now for the Orlando Magic.
And it's tough to conceive a more disastrous finish for the Atlanta Hawks.
What should have been a competitive series -- No. 2 vs. No. 3 -- turned into the most one-sided thrashing in NBA playoff history.
One team has raised its level of play. Another team just quit before reaching the finish line.
The Magic finished their sweep of the Hawks with a 98-84 victory Monday night, leading from start to finish in a game that never was competitive, but so indicative of the entire series.
The Magic led for 170 of the 192 minutes, winning by a combined 101 points, the most ever in a four-game playoff sweep.
For the Magic, and their championship hopes, it was a second consecutive sweep, and now another long break to rest and recuperate before facing an opponent in the conference final that will come directly from a hard-fought series.
For the Hawks, it's a dreadful ending that surely will overshadow their best regular season in 12 years, leading to major changes in the franchise, which could include departures by coach Mike Woodson and All-Star Joe Johnson, both without contracts for next season.
It has Atlanta burning. It has Orlando thinking it is unbeatable and on track to win a title. The Magic became just the sixth team in history to win its first eight games in a single postseason.
"When you're playing this well, you don't want to lose at all,'' said Magic guard Vince Carter, who led everyone with 22 points Monday. "You never want to have a nick in your armor. When you're playing this well, why not stay flawless if you can? I'd like to go 16-0.''
The NBA record for most consecutive playoff victories in one post season is 12, set by the San Antonio Spurs in 1999. The Los Angeles Lakers in 2001 won their first 11 consecutive games. Both teams won championships.
The Magic will await the winner of the Boston/Cleveland matchup, which could end Thursday in Game 6, or Sunday in Game 7. Either way, the Magic will be well rested, and confident, just like they were coming into Atlanta.
"For us to get back-to-back sweeps is an accomplishment. And I think it will get people's attention,'' said Magic forward Rashard Lewis. "The window to win a title doesn't open very wide, for very long, so you have to take advantage of it. That window is open now.''
The Magic shot 53.5 percent from the field in four games against Atlanta and 39.3 percent from 3-point range, beating them from all angles. Dwight Howard, whose inside presence destroyed the Hawks, averaged 21 points and 13.3 rebounds. He shot 84.4 percent from the field, an NBA record for a playoff series.
"The Eastern Conference final is going to be tougher. You can't say you're going to sweep there, but each of these wins helps build momentum,'' Lewis said. "You feel like you can't be beat, and you're out there thinking you'll win every game.''
It was ominous for the Hawks from the start, with a sparse crowd booing Johnson -- their own star -- every time he touched the ball. The reaction was in response to some ill-advised comments Johnson had made after Game 3, saying he didn't care what the fans thought of his play.
When he left the game for good with 3:48 remaining, they booed him again, ending a dismal playoff performance. He shot just 29.8 percent from the field and averaged 12.8 points.
The Hawks also did a strange video special on the overhead scoreboard, portraying Howard as an untouchable Superman. Although it was meant to show how they could bring him down, it didn't exactly inspire anyone with the Magic already leading by 15 points in the first half and Howard dominating the game.
The Hawks played with a little more passion than they did in Game 3, but they still lacked any early fire, letting the Magic score easy, uncontested, breakaway dunks on back-to-back possessions.
By the end of the game, the Magic were content to stand on the 3-point line, flipping up long-distance shots like it was a shooting gallery.
Neither Game 3 nor Game 4 in Atlanta even had a playoff feel. It was more of a let's-get-this-over-with feel.
"We just hit a big-time wall,'' said Woodson. "I never thought we'd have trouble scoring like we did in this series. I thought we could score against anyone. Orlando is just as good of a team as I've seen this year. They're playing at such a high level right now.''