Atlanta Hawks (12-6) at Orlando Magic (8-12), 7 p.m. (ET)
The Orlando Magic will be defending their home turf tonight against the Atlanta Hawks as they face off in this Eastern Conference rivalry. Both teams are fighting to keep the pace within the Southeast division, as the defending champions Miami Heat maintain a stronghold on first place.
This game is important for the Atlanta Hawks, who ended a three game win streak as they fell to the Miami Heat Monday night. Atlanta knows they must win against weaker teams such as Orlando if they wish to maintain second place within the division.
That’s easier said than done for the Hawks, as Orlando is well rested and fresh off a 5 game road stint that began with a huge upset over the Los Angeles Lakers. Orlando got the best of its former superstar Dwight Howard, and despite his 20 point 15 rebounds effort he still managed to miss 12 free throws, possibly blowing the game for the Lakers. Howard was drafted by Orlando in 2004, where he spent the first 8 sucessful seasons of his career with the Magic.
For Orlando, this season has been all about filling the huge void left by Howard. The Magic have struggled to find consistency in the paint after the offseason trade that sent Howard to the Lakers. However, big men Glen Davis and Nikola Vucecic have performed admirably in Howard’s absence, posting career highs in both points and rebounds respectively.
What to Watch For:
The key to success for the Magic has been their strong play off the bench. Shooting guard J.J. Redick is having a huge year off the pine while averaging 14 points 5 assist per game, both career highs. Redick is still managing plenty of court time as a backup, seeing nearly 32 minutes per game. At this pace Redick should continue to score efficiently and dish at a high clip for the Magic, and along with rookie Andrew Nicholson’s improved play off the bench, the Magic’s fortunes are beginning to look up.
While Atlanta relies heavily upon it’s starters to win games, they may need backup guard Louis Williams to play heavy minutes tonight. Williams was known in Philadelphia as a fantastic sixth man, and understands the importance in his role off the bench. Williams has averaged 14 points per game in his short time with the Hawks, nearly replicating his career averages.
After being named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith should have a fairly easy matchup against a much smaller Aaron Afflalo. Smith has been sensational over the past two weeks, so look for the Hawks to utilize Smith early and often in this game.
Al Horford has posted six straight double-doubles, and along with Josh Smith the Hawks should have their way with Orlando’s shallow frontcourt. Atlanta finds a way to fend off the feisty Orlando Magic in this one.
Prediction: Atlanta Hawks 103, Orlando Magic 96