In a tight battle between two NBA featherweights, the Atlanta Hawks scored a slim 94-88 victory over the slumping Orlando Magic at Philips Arena on April 1. It was the 11th loss in 13 games for Orlando, who inched nearer to Atlanta for the coveted last-place spot in the Eastern Conference standings.
With various injuries (of varying legitimacy) plaguing the two squads, the starting lineups for Sunday’s matchup read more appropriately as a distasteful April Fool’s joke. Point guard Dennis Schroder and shooting guard Kent Bazemore will sit out for the remainder of the Hawks’ season, leaving Atlanta to field a starting lineup with a combined six years of NBA experience against Orlando.
The lack of experience was evident early in Sunday’s contest, as Atlanta struggled with shot selection — that is, until Atlanta power forward and rookie phenom John Collins drove the lane for an authoritative one-handed slam. The play was a turning point for Atlanta: From then on, the offense found its flow.
For a team lacking experience, Atlanta played an effective pass-first offense that created a healthy dose of open looks. Atlanta finished the game shooting 48.2 percent from the field off 33 assists, compared to Orlando’s 34.4 percent shooting off 19 assists. The Hawks led at the half, 56-43.
“We came out moving the ball, spreading the ball, playing as a team,” Collins said. “Everybody got pass-happy. That’s how basketball is supposed to be: fun, moving the ball, everybody gets involved.”
Orlando pushed back in the second half, but poor shooting — due in part to a shifty defensive scheme that showed both man-to-man and a rare NBA zone — kept the visitors unsettled. Star forward Aaron Gordon connected on only four of 13 shots for a meager 10 points, but no Magic player struggled as mightily as center Nikola Vucevic, who made only three of his 19 field goal attempts.
Despite a dismal shooting performance, Orlando stuck around. But with the Magic trailing by just two points late in the fourth quarter, Atlanta rookie shooting guard Tyler Dorsey scored five straight points to close the deal. His three-pointer with a minute and 59 seconds remaining pushed the lead back to five, followed quickly by a driving lay-in on the Hawks’ next possession that suddenly put Atlanta safely up seven.
“I seen [sic] that I had a mismatch,” Dorsey said of his critical three-point bucket. “His hands was [sic] down, and I just let it fly. I work on that shot a lot.”
Dorsey finished with a team-high of 19 points on eight of 11 shooting off the bench.
Hawks shooting guard DeAndre’ Bembry returned to the floor for the first time in over a month on Sunday night. Bembry struggled with a multitude of injuries this season that limited him to just 21 games played prior to Sunday night’s meeting with the Magic. Bembry finished with four points, three assists and three rebounds in 14 minutes of play.
“This life, you just gotta get through it and push through it,” Bembry said. “Mentally, I’m good now. I am just trying to physically get back out there.”
The win halts Atlanta’s losing streak at five and improves their season record to 22-55, while Orlando inches closer to last place at 22-54. Next up for Atlanta is a home and away series against the Miami Heat, beginning on April 3 in Miami.
Atlanta tied the NBA record for fewest free throw attempts in a game, with only one attempt from the charity stripe. How strange is it to get to the line just one time over the course of a 48-minute game? “Very,” said Atlanta Head Coach Mike Budenholzer.
Collins is shooting 58.6 percent from the field, which would be the third highest single season field goal percentage for a rookie, behind just Steve Johnson (61.3 percent) and Otis Thorpe (60 percent). Antoine Carr currently holds the record for the Hawks franchise, when he shot 52.8 percent as a rookie for the Hawks in 1984-85.