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Hawks' Drew defends decision to protect Horford

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POSTED: April 21, 2011 2:42 p.m.

ATLANTA (AP) — Hawks coach Larry Drew said Wednesday big man Al Horford is too valuable not to have available late in a playoff game against Orlando.

Horford said he is too valuable to sit out most the first half against the Magic.

The coach sat the All-Star for all but 2 minutes of the first half in Atlanta's 88-82 loss to Orlando on Tuesday night. Drew said Wednesday it was the right call.

Horford said his track record indicates maybe it wasn't.

Drew said Horford would have played if the Hawks had "a bad stretch" in the second quarter.

"I wanted to roll the dice with that," Drew said. "I thought we were playing well."

The Magic outscored the Hawks 32-20 in the period to lead 48-42 at halftime.

Horford never picked up another foul in the game and has not fouled out this season. Asked if those were good reasons to leave him in the game, Horford said "I'd agree with that."

"It's one of those things coach felt like it was going OK for us, keeping me on the bench," Horford said. "It's something to consider for the future."

Horford finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds Tuesday.

The series is tied 1-1 and Game 3 is Friday night.

The Hawks tend to struggle when Horford is not on the floor, especially at home.

Horford missed only five games this season, including two of the team's most lopsided losses of the season. He was out with a sprained ankle when New Orleans crushed the Hawks 100-59 in Atlanta on Jan. 21. He was out with a sore back when Philadelphia won by 34 points in Atlanta, 117-83, on Feb. 8.

"We obviously want Al to be on the court as much as possible," said Hawks center Jason Collins.

Horford's value is a major reason Drew has used his big lineup, with Collins as a starter, against the Magic.

With the 7-foot Collins assigned to Orlando's Dwight Howard for the start of the game, Horford has moved to power forward. Josh Smith is starting at small forward, leaving forward Marvin Williams, high-scoring guard Jamal Crawford and center Zaza Pachulia as the team's top reserves.

"With the big lineup, it puts me in the position of taking fouls," Collins said. "We try to keep Josh and Al out of foul trouble as much as possible."

The big lineup worked as Atlanta won three of four against Orlando in the regular season before winning the opening game of the series, 103-93.

Former Hawks coach Mike Woodson had no success with a different strategy against Orlando in the playoffs last year. With Horford at center, the Hawks tried to double-team Howard as the Magic swept the Hawks by an average of 25 points in the second round last year.

The Hawks have either won or have been competitive against Orlando this season, even with Howard posting huge numbers.

Howard scored 46 points with 19 rebounds in the Game 1 loss to Atlanta. He had 33 points and 19 rebounds in Tuesday night's win.

"I'm not discouraged by that one bit," Drew said.

"I don't know if anybody in the league can really defend him where you can really shut him down. He's too powerful. He's too big."

Drew said the Hawks are better able to defend Orlando's 3-point shooters by devoting only one defender to Howard. The Magic made only 6 of 22 3-pointers (27.3 percent) in the opener and only 5 of 23 (21.7 percent) on Tuesday night.

Horford (6-10, 246) appears headed for more time at power forward in the future. Many believe it is his natural position.

"Yeah, certainly," Drew said. "This big lineup has been good."

Horford says playing forward gives him the ability "to move more freely and just play my game."

Even so, he says "one of the strengths of our team is having me at the 5 at times and having me run other (centers) out of the gym."

When the Hawks stick with their smaller lineup with Williams, Horford and Smith on the front line, it's difficult for some teams to match the athleticism of Horford and Smith.

"You don't see it very often where the bigs outrun the guards, but their bigs fly," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers this month. "Horford, I don't know what motor he runs on, but it's amazing. ... He flies down the floor! Every possession."

Horford played for Rivers in the All-Star game and made a big impression.

"Of all the All-Stars, he was hands down — it wasn't even close — my favorite guy," Rivers said. "Just the way he carries himself. He made a comment to me, 'Coach, don't worry about playing me. I just want to play one stint. This is about the stars.'

"I said, 'You know, you're one of those guys.' He's just so unassuming. I was like, Wow! And you knew it was for real."

 

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