ORLANDO, Fla. — There has been no crowd for the games the Orlando Magic have been playing lately. No officials. No true opponent.
Not even a clock.
“That’s the worst part,” guard Vince Carter said. “You wish there was a clock up there and you could see it tick down. It’s not. There’s not even a score. It’s just go, go, go.”
Practice time is finally over.
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When the Magic open their Eastern Conference semifinal against the Atlanta Hawks tonight, eight days will have passed since they swept Charlotte. The Hawks needed the full seven games to get by undermanned Milwaukee, meaning they got a turnaround of little more than 48 hours.
The contrasting layoffs heading into the best-of-seven series between the Southeast Division rivals make for intriguing dilemmas.
The Magic have been simulating opponents’ players in practice. They studied film and prepared last week as if they were facing Milwaukee when the Bucks led the series 3-2, then threw that information away, practicing late Sunday just so they could wait until Game 7 finished.
The time off has been longer than anything they’ve experienced this season — even during training camp.
“It felt like we had went fishing for a minute,” Orlando’s Dwight Howard said, chuckling. “We was at home chilling. Everybody was at home like, ‘When do we play again?”’
Now they know.
The Hawks had a tougher-than-expected series against a Milwaukee team missing star center Andrew Bogut. But Atlanta returned from a monumental Game 5 collapse to run away with the final two and build some momentum heading to Orlando.
Far healthier than a year ago when they were swept by Cleveland in the second round, the Hawks have no overlying injuries. They also have had almost no time to prepare for a team that has dominated them of late.
“It can go against you or it can help you,” Hawks head coach Mike Woodson said of the layoff. “If your team is banged up, they had a good week to heal some wounds. Sometimes layoffs can hurt you, as well. As a coach I’m going in knowing they’re ready to play, without a doubt.”
The Hawks had lost six straight regular-season games to the Magic until their final meeting, when Josh Smith swooped in to dunk Joe Johnson’s miss ahead of the buzzer for an 86-84 win. Atlanta now hopes to keep Dwight Howard in his current foul-trouble funk to knock off the defending Eastern Conference champions.
Otherwise, it could be trouble.