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NBA Playoffs: Maybe the Hawks can use more Horford in Game 3

Apr 22, 2011, 4:33 PM EDT

Atlanta Hawks v Orlando Magic - Game Two Getty Images

Now the Orlando/Atlanta series moves on to Game 3 on a neutral court… wait, it’s in Atlanta? Interesting. We’ll see if anyone notices.

Seriously, the Hawks fans will be into it if the Hawks are into it. And in it.

Whether the Hawks are in it may depend in part on how much run Al Horford gets, which became one of the big stories out of Game 2. Horford — the Hawks best player in the regular season — picked up two fouls in 2:10 of the first quarter and got yanked by coach Larry Drew. And never put back in for the entire first half. Stat heads are down on the idea of yanking a guy with two fouls in the first place, go ahead and debate that if you wish. Nobody was down with Horford not getting back in until the second half. Or with sitting Jason Collins — the guy who bangs with Dwight Howard and allows the Hawks to single cover on the perimeter — when he picked up a second foul with 8:44 in the second quarter. Both sat the rest of the half.

The result was Orlando made a 12-2 run and a separate 14-3 run in the second quarter while the two bigs sat. The Magic grabbed a lead they never relinquished. Collins was saved for a fourth quarter he almost never played in because the Hawks needed guys who can score.

It’s not rocket science. You’ve got to play your best players to win. Horford is as good as the Hawks have inside. Give the man his run.

The Hawks best player so far this series has been Jamal Crawford, who is averaging 24 points a game and is shooting 58.4 percent from three. In general the Hawks have had stretches where their shooters — Joe Johnson, Josh Smith — have been nailing the jumpers they too easily settle for, and they have held the lead. The Hawks expect that to last, the Magic think they can close out and shut that down.

The Hawks have a real shot here — they played poorly and had bad coaching decisions in Game 2 on the road and still were in it late. They create matchup problems that Orlando struggles to solve. The Magic have nobody who can hang with Josh Smith if Mr. Smith wishes to take over. Atlanta should open up the Mike Woodson playbook and isolate the guy.

At some point, Orlando fans and players expect their shots to start falling. Atlanta thinks that they, too, can shoot a lot better against the Magic defense.

One of them will be right. And one of them will be up 2-1 in this series come Saturday morning.

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