Buzzards are circling in Atlanta

By Mike Bianchi
Updated: May 9, 2010

ATLANTA — This is what the meticulous, methodical Magic do to wounded, wayward teams.

They run them down and pounce on them like a cheetah ravaging a distressed antelope. And they gratuitously leave the carcass there for the hyenas and the buzzards.

The Atlanta Hawks are down to their last gasp.

The Atlanta vultures are circling.

I’m telling you, the Atlanta fans who showed up on this somber Saturday at Philips Arena weren’t sitting in their seats so much as they were perched atop them and waiting for their team to die.

They weren’t disappointed. Magic 105, Hawks 75.

All you need to know is this: The Hawks were booed off the floor at halftime of their first home playoff game in this series. “We deserved to be booed — all of us,” Hawks coach Mike Woodson said.

This was not a basketball game so much as it was a funeral march. The only thing missing from the pre-game introductions was a lone bugler playing Taps as the Magic carried a coffin draped in a Hawks banner out to midcourt.

This was no coliseum; it was a mausoleum – a place where NBA atmosphere comes to die. You call this place an NBA playoff basketball crowd. It looked more like a WNBA midseason crowd.

Even though it was called a sellout, you should have seen the vast expanses of empty seats at tipoff Saturday. The Hawks, even though they won 53 games this season and are the No. 3 seed in the East, were 22nd in the league in attendance.

“It’s no wonder that Gone With the Wind author Margaret Mitchell was born in Atlanta: Frankly, my dear, this city doesn’t give a damn about the Hawks. And the feeling seems to be mutual.

“We could care less if they (fans) showed up or not,” struggling Hawks star Joe Johnson said of the booing fans.

Postseason atmosphere? This was more like post-mortem atmosphere. On this Saturday, the ATL was all but pronounced DOA. The only thing missing was a toe tag – and that will likely come Monday night in Game 4.

And the Magic’s merciless march through the playoffs rolls on. Seven postseason games, seven wins for the Magic. This team has won 13 straight games dating back to the regular season and hasn’t lost in more than a month.

Nothing seems to faze this team; nothing at all. They have beat the Hawks by an average of 29 points in the three games of this series. They handed Atlanta its worst-ever home playoff loss Saturday and became only the fourth team in NBA history to win two games in a playoff series by 30 points or more.

After the game, somebody asked Magic coach Stan Van Gundy if his team may be peaking too early in the playoffs. Predictably, he scoffed.

“What would you like us to do, try to lose a couple of games?” Van Gundy said.

And then Van Gundy, the pugnacious perfectionist, shared the philosophy that his ultra-focused team has bought into.

” I want my team to be great in the first exhibition game,” he said, “and I want them to get better and better and better and better. Why can’t you just be as good as you can be every time you step out on the floor.”

On Saturday, it didn’t matter to the Magic one iota that the Hawks were coming home where they had compiled a spectacular 34-7 record during the regular season. The Magic didn’t even knock.

They just barged into the Hawks’ house like they were the Hells Angels. They wiped their mud-caked boots on the expensive Persian rug; they put out their cigar butts on the arm of the fancy leather sofa; they chugged beer from Mom’s elegant crystal vase.

In the playoff-opening series, the Magic turned the Bobcats into Bobkittens and now they are turning the Hawks into chickens. If a surgeon were to perform an autopsy on the Hawks after this series is over, he would shockingly find a peach pit where their heart should be.

“These guys are a bunch of bums,” said Alex Powell, one of the many fans who booed and jeered the Hawks throughout this game . “I can’t believe I spent good money to watch this garbage.”

“I don’t get it,” said Kris Bivins, a disgusted Hawks fan who was among a deluge of fans who flooded out of the building at the outset of the fourth quarter. “It’s like those guys don’t even want to be out on the floor. It’s like they can’t wait to go on summer vacation.”

This is what the methodical, meticulous Magic do to wounded, wayward teams: They turn them into a bickering, booing bunch of back-biters.

The Hawks are dying. The vultures are circling.

The hyenas are cackling. The end is near.