The Magic made it seven straight postseason wins with a 105-75 blowout Saturday, showing off all their weapons beyond Superman while handing the Hawks the worst home playoff loss in franchise history.
Winkeljohn: Peaking Magic can keep it going
Series matchup: Magic 3, Hawks 0
Dwight Howard put up his usual stout numbers -- 21 points and 16 rebounds -- but he didn't stand out playing in his hometown. No one on the Magic really did, which is the real beauty of a team playing better than anyone at the most crucial time of year.
Rashard Lewis scored 22 points and knocked down four 3-pointers. Jameer Nelson chipped in with 14 points and four assists. Mickael Pietrus added 13 points, hitting three shots beyond the arc. Marcin Gortat grabbed six rebounds in less than 10 minutes relieving Howard. Matt Barnes had 11 points.
"We understand that for us to win we have to play together," Howard said. "We have a lot of shooters, and we try to feed off that."
All 10 Orlando players who got on the court made it to the scoresheet, and the Magic worked even harder at the defensive end. Atlanta made a measly 35 percent from the field, getting only eight points from star Joe Johnson on 3-of-15 shooting.
The Hawks have been battered in three straight games, losing by an average of 29 points to a team that finished just ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings. Their previous worst playoff defeat at home was a 107-83 rout by Philadelphia in 1980.
"A tough, ugly loss," Johnson said. "Embarrassing."
Orlando, which has won 13 straight dating to the regular season, will try to wrap up its second straight sweep in Game 4 on Monday.
Johnson, who'll be part of what could be the greatest free-agent class in NBA history, may be costing himself millions with his performance in the playoffs. He's shooting just 29 percent against the Magic, averaging 12.3 points a game. Over the last six postseason games, he's averaging 13.3 points on 31 percent shooting.
"Guys look to me for guidance," Johnson said. "When I'm playing like that, it's almost impossible for us to win."
At this point, the Hawks are playing for nothing but pride, hoping to avoid getting swept in the second round for the second year in a row.
Last year, a rash of injuries left them feeling as though they didn't get a fair shot against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
No such excuses this year. Atlanta is at full strength but has simply run up against a superior team at the peak of its game, and frequent lapses have left the Hawks looking more outclassed than anyone could have expected -- especially playing at home, where they went 34-7 during the regular season.
"It's just not there," Al Horford said. "The guys know what we have to do. It's just frustrating when the effort isn't there."
No NBA team has ever come back from an 0-3 deficit, and the challenge looks more daunting considering how well the Magic are playing.
Atlanta never led in this one and was trailing 24-16 when Howard picked up his second foul with 1:45 left in the opening quarter. Even with its big man on the bench, Orlando just kept adding to it lead.
Even with only one starter on the court, the Magic kept the Hawks in check. By the time Howard returned with just under 7 minutes left in the first half, Orlando was comfortably ahead 38-24. After Mike Bibby missed a 3-pointer, Howard grabbed the rebound and the Magic worked the ball to Pietrus for a 3-pointer that stretched the margin to 41-24.
The Magic went to the locker room with their biggest lead of the half, 52-33, after Lewis swished another trey. Atlanta fired up one final miss before the buzzer, leaving the court to a round of boos from the home crowd.
Showing his frustration, Josh Smith pushed away a cameraman who was attempting to follow him off the court.
In the second half, the crowd took out its frustration on Johnson as he kept missing the mark.
"That doesn't bother me," he said. "I could care less if they showed up or not."
Late in the third quarter, Orlando stretched its lead to 26 points. At that point, Howard's numbers looked rather mortal -- 11 points and nine rebounds. He did the bulk of his scoring and rebounding after the game was long since decided.
Not too many fans were around for the ending. When J.J. Redick swished a 3-pointer to make it 88-59 with more than 8 minutes remaining, many in the crowd popped out of their seats and headed for the exits.
The Magic led by as many as 31 in the final quarter -- not quite as dominating as their 43-point win at home in Game 1, but not too far off considering this rout came on the road.
Jamal Crawford led the Hawks with 22 points, but Smith (15) and Horford (11) were the only other Atlanta players in double figures.
Orlando hasn't lost in more than a month, and the Hawks -- a 53-win team that claimed the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference -- surely don't look like a group that has any chance of ending that streak.
"You can tell they're hungry," Johnson said. "They want to get back to the Finals. You can just see it."
The Magic's last defeat was a 112-100 setback at San Antonio on April 2. They have lost only three times in their past 30 games, showing they are very much a team that can challenge East No. 1 seed Cleveland and the Los Angeles Lakers, the top seed out West and the team that beat Orlando in last year's NBA Finals.Notes
- The Magic dominated the boards, finishing with a 51-34 rebounding edge that was largely piled up on all those Atlanta misses. Three technicals were called, all in the third quarter: Smith for Atlanta, Barnes and Van Gundy for Orlando.
- The Magic have beaten Atlanta in nine of the last 10 meetings between the division rivals.