The Orlando Magic enter their final home game of the season in control of their own playoff destiny.
With three games remaining, the Magic hold a half game lead over the Heat for the eighth seed, are tied with the Nets record wise for the seventh seed (Nets own the head-to-head tiebreaker), and trail the Pistons by a half game for the sixth seed.
Based on remaining schedules, the Magic have an opportunity to not only secure their first playoff berth since 2012, but also move up in the standings to avoid the Bucks in the first round. In order to do so, they need to treat Friday’s game against the Hawks as a playoff game from buzzer to buzzer.
While the Hawks are just 29-50, a win is in no way a guarantee for the Magic, especially if they underestimate their opponent. Just ask the Bucks, Jazz and Sixers...playoff teams who have recently lost to Atlanta. The Hawks have gone 5-2 over their last seven games, which included two wins over the third-seeded Sixers. During that stretch, the Hawks are averaging 121.6 points per game, which is second best in the league over the last seven games. Since the All-Star break, Atlanta owns the the eighth best offensive rating at 112.1 points per 100 possessions.
The Hawks, who play at the fastest pace in the league at 104.5 possessions per game, take the third most three-point attempts per game at 36.8 a game (making just 35.2 percent, 16th in league). Not a great percentage for such a high volume, but when shots are falling, the Hawks put up points in a hurry.
Trae Young, averaging 19.0 points and 8.1 assists this season, has averaged 24.9 points and 10.7 assists over the last seven games. Since the All-Star break, Young has improved his percentages from 40.6% from the field and 31.2% from three, to 44.6% from the field and 36% from three, per Zach Hood of Peachtree Hoops (give the story a read to learn about the improvements in the Hawks’ offense, well worth your time).
The biggest culprit for the team’s jump in productivity is obviously Young, who individually has been a much different player in the past 21 games. Young is averaging 25 points, 9.2 assists (3.4 turnovers) and 4.6 rebounds per game over the past 21 games, compared to 16.9 points, 7.6 assists (3.9 turnovers) and 3.3 rebounds per game in 58 games before the break. Young’s on-court net rating in each stretch perhaps illustrates the change best, as he had an -8.7 on-court rating in his first 58 games, compared to a +1.3 rating in his last 21. That’s a ten point swing, which is truly ridiculous.
In three games against Orlando this season, Young has averaged 18.0 points and 6.0 assists per while shooting 50 percent from the field. Curious to see how Steve Clifford balances D.J. Augustin, who can take advantage of Young on the offensive end, and Michael Carter-Williams, who is more equipped to contain Young on the defensive end.
The Magic have won each of their three games against the Hawks this season, all by double-digits. In their most recent match-up in mid-March, the Magic won 101-91, one of the Hawks’ lowest scoring games of the season.
The Hawks’ weakness - defense - has been the Magic’s strength during their playoff push. Orlando, since January 31st, owns the league’s best defensive rating at 104.3 points per. The defense has trailed off over the last four games, allowing 116.8 points per, which is seventh worst in the league, earning criticism from Clifford. The Magic did hold the Knicks to 100 points in a game where the pace was slowed and New York connected on just 6 of 27 three-point attempts (22.2 percent).
The Magic look to finish the regular season with a ninth straight win on their home court, their longest streak since 2011. A victory would also bring the Magic to the 40-win plateau, a meaningful milestone for an organization that had failed to reach 30 victories in five of the last six seasons.
With a victory tonight, the Orlando Magic would improve to 40-40. It would be the latest stage of a regular season that the Magic have been .500 or better since they ended the 2011-12 season with a 37-29 record on 4/26/2012. That was the last season Orlando reached the playoffs.— Josh Robbins (@JoshuaBRobbins) April 5, 2019
For Orlando - which closes out the regular season with road games in Boston on Sunday and Charlotte on Wednesday - it will be another night of scoreboard watching. The Heat play in Minnesota (Miami favored by 3) and the Pistons play in Oklahoma City (Thunder favored by 9). If all goes perfect, as it did for the Magic on Wednesday, Orlando could have sole possession of the six seed by night’s end.
“I so don’t care about six, seven, eight right now. Please get in,” Evan Fournier recently told reporters. “We’ll see about the record maybe the last game of the season if everything goes well. Man, right now, just get in. Get in.”