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Hawks need Joe Johnson to show up

Joe Johnson needs to contribute more for the Hawks to win.

The Orlando Magic still haven’t lost a game in the 2010 playoffs.

On the heels of a 43-point victory over Atlanta in Game 1, Orlando took a 2-0 series lead by beating the Hawks 112-98 Thursday night. After Atlanta went a solid 53-29 during the regular season, it has struggled to come away with victories in the postseason; the team barely squeezed by a depleted Bucks team in the first round, and it is now in a deep hole against Orlando.

John Hollinger wrote for ESPN today that Atlanta’s isolation-based offense isn’t a very good fit for playoff contests. While there’s an argument to be made there, the Hawks’ best isolation player hasn’t shown up in the series against the Magic so far. That’s the main reason for the embarrassing loss Tuesday night.

In the two games, Johnson has 29 points combined on dreadful 33 percent (9-27) shooting. He also has five turnovers in the two contests, and he has shot 2-8 from beyond the three-point line.

While he is surrounded by a fairly solid supporting cast, he needs to be a leader for a team that lacks another one-on-one scorer. His primary defender on the Magic? That’s Vince Carter, who’s not exactly Bruce Bowen on the defensive side of the ball.

In Game 3, Joe Johnson will have to establish himself on Atlanta’s home floor, where the Hawks play significantly better. He needs to make a serious effort on offense to put up 25 or more points. If he can do that, Josh Smith and Al Horford, who have played reasonably well up front, can complement that solid base of offense.

Moreover, if Johnson can shoot a better percentage, he can demand more attention from Orlando’s defense, opening up jump shots for Mike Bibby, Marvin Williams, and Mo Evans. In addition, a solid outing for Johnson sets the pace for Jamal Crawford to come off the bench and light up the scoreboard.

This offseason, Johnson will be part of the highly lauded free-agent class of 2010. Among names like LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade, he is in good company in the open market. That said, there has been much debate about whether Johnson deserves a maximum contract.

Given his poor postseason play, I’d be inclined to say he doesn’t. One of the most important aspect of a franchise player is his ability to lead his team to victory in the playoffs. LeBron does it, Wade does it, and Kobe Bryant does it. Johnson, however, does not. He still has a chance to redeem himself, though.

With a maximum of five games left in the series, he has an opportunity to show what he can do. Atlanta will be depending on it.

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