The Magic are in the middle of a five-game home-stand that will go a long way in determining if they remain contenders for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Orlando is set to host the Atlanta Hawks early Sunday evening, looking to build upon last Thursday’s comfortable win at home against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Since the All-Star break, the Magic have had trouble in games where they’ve been considered the “favorite”, dropping contests to the Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Memphis Grizzlies.
The Magic have scored over 120 points in both contests against the Hawks this season, defeating Atlanta on their home court in January (122-103), and then again at State Farm Arena in February (124-108).
The Hawks have been led this season by their two young franchise cornerstones, Trae Young and John Collins. Young, the fifth overall pick in last year’s NBA Draft, is making a late push for the league’s Rookie of the Year Award. Atlanta’s first-year point guard has averaged 25.6 points and 8.4 assists over his last ten games (30-66 on three-point attempts, 45%).
Collins’ name will be in the discussion for the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award. The 19th pick in the ‘17 draft has improved his scoring average from 10.5 points in his rookie campaign to 19.9 points per game this season. Collins has averaged 24.2 points (56% F.G.%) and 12.4 rebounds over Atlanta’s last five games.
The Hawks played yesterday afternoon in Boston, dropping a high-scoring contest (129-120) to the Celtics despite a late fourth-quarter rally that led to Atlanta ultimately tying the game.
Two Magic players that have feasted on the Hawks defense this season are Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier. Vucevic has averaged 24.0 points and 13.0 rebounds in two meetings against Atlanta this season. Fournier has averaged 23.0 points and 7.0 assists (FG%: 50%, 3PT%: 44%) in the two contests against Orlando’s Southeast division foe.
Five story-lines heading into tonight’s Magic/Hawks game:
1) “Playoffs? Don’t talk about...playoffs? You kidding me, playoffs?”
Yes Magic fans (and Jim Mora gifs/memes everywhere), the possibility of Orlando making the playoffs this season is still a thing (for now). The Magic enter play Sunday just one game back of the Miami Heat for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Miami is hosting the Charlotte Hornets Sunday, who are tied in the standings with the Magic (one game back in the win column).
2) Guarding Atlanta on the perimeter
The Hawks take (and make) the third most three-point field goal attempts per game in the league. Obviously, this starts with their lead guard (Young). However, Taurean Prince, Kevin Huerter, Kent Bazemore, Vince Carter, and even Dewayne Dedmon are all just as capable of hurting the Magic from distance if they’re left open.
Dedmon went 5-7 from three-point distance in Orlando’s first match-up against the Hawks, and Atlanta made 13 three-point field goals (13-32, 41%) as a team in the second match-up in February.
3) Orlando must control the glass
The Hawks rank 3rd in the NBA in offensive rebounding, grabbing just under 12 offensive rebounds per game.
The Magic have held Atlanta below their season average in both contests this season, giving up nine offensive boards to the Hawks in their first meeting, and just five offensive boards in the second meeting.
Orlando holds the season advantage over the Hawks on the boards, out-rebounding Atlanta 94-77 over their two meetings earlier this year.
4) The point guard match-up
Veteran point guard D.J. Augustin has played very well against the Hawks this season. In two meetings this year against Atlanta, Augustin is averaging 14.5 points and 7.0 assists (10-17 FGA’s, 5-8 on 3PTA’s).
On the other hand, Young has averaged 17.0 points and 6.5 assists against Orlando, shooting 50% (11-22) from the field. Young is a -42 in 55 combined minutes against the Magic this season.
5) Turning defense into offense, forcing Atlanta to turn-it-over
The Hawks rank 30th in the league (dead last) in turnovers per game, giving it up just under 18 times per game. The Magic failed to force the Hawks into many difficult situations int heir two earlier contests. Atlanta has turned the ball over 24 times in two games against Orlando (12.0), well below their season average.
Getting steals (29th) and forcing turnovers (27th) are two things the Magic are not prolific at as a team. But they must find opportunities Sunday to do just that. Easy baskets off Atlanta turnovers could help the Magic offset the pace Atlanta plays with (2nd in the league with a pace of 103.7).
Check back later today for our site’s official GameThread.