Orlando’s chances of reaching the playoffs hinge on beating bottom-tier teams such as the Atlanta Hawks, whom the Magic visit on Wednesday.
The Magic (25-32) have a 4.5-game lead over Washington for the eighth playoff spot in the NBA’s Eastern Conference. A victory over Atlanta (17-42) would help Orlando continue an upward trend that includes winning three of their past four, including a 115-113 triumph over the Brooklyn Nets on Monday.
Orlando overcame a 19-point third-quarter deficit to beat the Nets.
However, Atlanta has won two of three games against Orlando this season. The Hawks won 103-99 on Oct. 26 behind Trae Young’s 39 points, then beat the Magic 101-93 on Dec. 30 when G League product Brandon Goodwin came off the bench to score 21 points in 22 minutes. Orlando earned a 135-126 win on Feb. 10 when Aaron Gordon scored 26 and the Magic sank a season-high 18 3-pointers.
This will be the final meeting between the teams this season.
“We’re in the hunt, so (the Brooklyn victory) was a good win to get for us,” Gordon said. “I feel like we’ve let go of a lot of games and now it’s time to get a hold of them.”
Orlando coach Steve Clifford agreed.
“Every team in our league will have really good wins this year,” Clifford said. “This was a really good win and we’ll see what we make of it.”
It won’t be easy. Besides Atlanta’s success against Orlando this season, the Hawks have won six of their past seven home games.
The young Atlanta team has coalesced around Young, who averages 29.9 points and 9.2 rebounds. Young scored 28 points, rookie De’Andre Hunter had 22 and John Collins added 21 in Monday’s 129-112 loss at Philadelphia.
The Hawks also have watched rookie Cam Reddish blossom into a reliable contributor, who provides quickness and defense at forward while developing into a solid offensive piece.
“His mentality is tough,” Young said about Reddish. “I love his attack mindset.”
Orlando has multiple options that cause problems for Atlanta. Gordon, Evan Fournier and Nikola Vucevic all have had their moments against the Hawks this season. Against Atlanta this season, Gordon in averaging 18.0 points and 8.0 rebounds, Fournier is averaging 22.3 points and Vucevic 22.3 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists.
Gordon had 27 points and 10 rebounds — and a crucial block in the final seconds — against the Nets on Monday. It was Gordon’s 15th double-double, and he has led or tied for the team scoring lead in nine games. Vucevic had 16 points and 10 rebounds and has a team-leading 29 double-doubles.
Orlando’s Jonathan Isaac, who has been out with a left knee injury since Jan. 1, is feeling better and traveling with the team. He shot free throws Monday, but there is no timetable for his return.
Atlanta also awaits the availability of the two centers acquired at the trade deadline. No date has been set for the return of Clint Capela (right heel) and Skal Labissiere (left knee).
–Field Level Media