The Magic are the NBA’s hottest team, having won 11 of their last 12 games. Before losing to the Milwaukee Bucks 98-95 on Monday night, the Atlanta Hawks had won five of their last six games. The Magic were also in action on Monday night, defeating the 76ers in Philadelphia 109-93.
These two teams have played each other three times this season and the Magic have won all three games with relative ease. Orlando’s lowest margin of victory against Atlanta this year is 17.
Atlanta is now 45-25 and are 4.5 games behind Orlando in the Southeast Division. The Hawks are currently tied for third with the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference. Orlando, 50-21, seems pretty comfortable in the two spot. Atlanta is 28-7 on their home floor while the Magic are 22-14 away from Amway Arena.
Tip-off from the Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia is scheduled for 7:00 pm EST and the game will be shown locally by Sun Sports. As always, if you can’t watch the game, you can listen to it locally on WDBO AM 580 and in Spanish on WONQ AM 1030.
The Line: Atlanta -1.5
The Magic have had little trouble dispensing of the Hawks this season.
In their first meeting (in Atlanta), the Magic fell behind by 14 points in the third quarter but dominated the rest of the
way, winning the second half 54-25 to earn a 93-76 victory.
The two teams met again on January 9th. The Magic were without an injured Vince Carter, but that didn’t seem to bother them. Orlando raced out to a 66-37 halftime lead and came away with a 113-81 win. Seven Magic players scored in double figures.
They faced off again three weeks later and Dwight Howard dominated the game, scoring 31 points and grabbing 19 rebounds leading the Magic to a 104-86 victory.
The Hawks have been excellent on offense this season, averaging 102.4 points per game and ranking third in offensive rating (112.1). However, the Magic have held the Hawks to just 81.0 points per game this season, over 21 points per game below their season average.
The Hawks have played better defense this season. They give up 97.7 points per game and rank 13th in defensive rating (106.9), yet the Magic have been able to score 103.3 points per game against the Hawks this season.
In other words, this is not a good matchup for the Hawks.
It should come as no surprise that Dwight Howard is the main reason for Atlanta’s problems with Orlando.
Al Horford is a good, young player but he is no match for Dwight Howard on either side of the court. Howard has averaged 21.7 points, 14.3 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game this season, all above his season averages. Horford has managed just 6.7 points and 6.0 rebounds per game against Orlando this season.
Howard has been especially good on the defensive end, stopping the penetration of the Hawks’ wings.
Joe Johnson, an All-Star starter, has had his share of trouble against the Magic this season. He’s averaging just 16.0 points (5 points below his season average) on 41.3% shooting against the Magic this season (he is shooting 45.8% on the year). Jamal Crawford, who should run away with Sixth Man of the Year Award, is averaging just 13.0 points per game on 31.8% shooting against the Magic this season.
Although the Magic matchup extremely well with the Hawks, the Hawks are still a very talented team and have become one of the six or seven best teams in basketball. The Magic will have to come out with great energy and give an excellent effort because the Hawks, having lost all three games to their division rival this season, will be ready to play – there’s no doubt that they want this game badly.
(Andrew Melnick is Howard the Dunk’s lead blogger and a contributor at NFL Mocks and Sir Charles In Charge. Subscribe to his RSS feed, add him on Twitter to follow him daily and you can get the HTD app here).