ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - Last year Atlanta became one the early surprise teams of the playoffs when it beat Orlando in the first round.
Despite playing most of this season without one of their biggest pieces, the Hawks again look like the more capable team opposite a Magic squad they used to always be one step behind.
Jannero Pargo hit five 3-pointers and had 17 points, and Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Marvin Williams each scored 16 as the Atlanta Hawks took advantage of a Magic team playing without center Dwight Howard, cruising to a 109-81 victory on Friday night
The Hawks earned their third straight win over the Magic this season and have now won six consecutive regular-season meetings over their division mates. All three of the victories have come without center Al Horford, who played only 11 games this season before tearing the pectoral in his left shoulder.
Atlanta shot 50 percent from the field (40 for 79), including 14 3-pointers. The Hawks led by 35 at one point.
``We've been in situations this year where key players were out for the opposition and we haven't come out and played with energy and intensity,' Hawks coach Larry Drew said. ``I thought we did that from start to finish. We stayed the course. I'm real proud of that.'
Pargo said it was a situation where the Hawks were able to take advantage of the looks at the basket the Magic gave them.
``I think we did a good job of running the offense,' he said. ``Our offense doesn't change. It doesn't matter who they have on the floor. Our offense doesn't change. Same offense, just a little more crisp today. We played hard and we played together.'
Glen Davis and Von Wafer each scored 16 points to lead the Magic. Orlando lost its second straight and fell to 1-4 without center Dwight Howard, who sat for the fifth time in seven games with back spasms.
It appears Howard's absence will be even longer, though, with the team announcing after the game that Howard was diagnosed with a herniated disk in his lower back by Dr. Robert Watkins in Los Angeles.
Howard flew out there earlier Friday for a second opinion for what had previously been called back spasms since he injured his back at the end of March.
There is no timetable for his return and it will be based on how he responds to treatment.
Howard is scheduled to fly back to Orlando on Saturday.
Smith, a friend of Howard's going back to preschool in Atlanta, visited Howard's home Thursday and said he ``was pretty much in his room getting a massage' on his back.
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy says Howard was in pain following the team's practice Thursday and the coach wasn't optimistic he'll be ready to play at Cleveland on Sunday or against Philadelphia on Monday even before his latest diagnosis.
The Magic entered Friday tied for fifth place in the Eastern Conference with Atlanta, though the Hawks hold the head-to-head tiebreaker. Atlanta took over sole possession of fifth with the win.
None of the Magic players said they'd heard an update of Howard's status afterwards, but said it didn't effect what they needed to do over their final seven games.
``We have to have a better mindset by going forward - no excuses,' said Magic guard J.J. Redick. ``In order to be a lot better, we have to figure out defensively a way to play defense better. Because obviously we're going to miss having Dwight on that end of the floor a lot.'
The Hawks exploited Howard's absence in the middle from the opening tip, driving the ball into the heart of the Magic's defense at will in the early going.
Atlanta scored 16 points in the paint in the first quarter and shot 75 percent (15 for 20) from the field to build a 13-point lead. That advantage grew to 62-42 at the half, with the Hawks still shooting 56 percent (22 for 39) heading into the break.
The Magic briefly showed life, pulling to 74-60 late in the third quarter, but it was short-lived as the Hawks' 15-2 run quickly pushed the lead to 27 and they were able to cruise the rest of the way.
It got so bad in the fourth quarter as the Hawks' lead reached 30 points that the Magic were even whistled for a technical for excessive timeouts.
The real damage was done much earlier, though.
The 62 points scored by Atlanta in the first half was a new high for a Magic opponent in the opening half this season, surpassing the old mark of 60 set by Milwaukee last month.
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, who had managed to control his usually fiery temper with referees this season, was also whistled for his first technical foul of the season for arguing what appeared to be questionable offensive foul call on Von Wafer late in the half.
``I was really upset, especially with our starters,' Van Gundy said of his team's effort. ``They just didn't bring anything to the game. We didn't run back, we didn't get matched up. They got too many easy shots...It was a defensive problem that became an offensive problem.'
NOTES: Pargo's five 3-pointers tied a season-high. ... The Magic fell to 4-10 when an opponent scores 100 or more points. ... With his fifth missed regular-season game Howard set a new personal high for missed games in a season. He missed four games last season. Prior to this season Howard had only missed two games in his career due to injury. The rest were either because of illness or suspension.
The Associated Press News Service
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