Hawks-Magic Preview

It's looking more and more like the up-and-coming Orlando Magic can be a player in what's shaping up as a wide-open Southeast Division race.

They'll get a good indicator of their progress when the defending division champion Atlanta Hawks visit Amway Center on Sunday night in the season series opener.

After three consecutive seasons of 25 victories or less, Orlando has re-emerged as a potential playoff contender under new coach Scott Skiles by winning nine of 12. The Magic, the Hawks, Miami and Charlotte are within a game of each other for the Southeast lead.

Orlando (15-11) has made clear strides on the defensive end during Skiles' first season, holding opponents to 98.3 points per game and 42.8 percent shooting to rank among the NBA leaders in both categories. The Magic also have been markedly better at home, where they improved to 9-4 with Friday's 102-94 victory over Portland that extended their win streak to three.

The Magic were 13-28 at Amway Center last season and didn't record their ninth win there until Feb. 22.

“Winning is contagious and everybody in this locker room has that feeling now,” forward Tobias Harris said.

While Atlanta (16-12) hasn't matched the consistency or proficiency of its club-record 60-win campaign of 2014-15, it has come through with back-to-back sharp performances to put a three-game skid behind. After shooting a season-best 61.5 percent in Wednesday's 127-106 drubbing of hapless Philadelphia, the Hawks dominated the fourth quarter to rally for a 109-101 win in Boston on Friday.

Atlanta scored 38 points – 15 from Paul Millsap – in the final period. The Hawks averaged 86.7 points on 40.3 percent shooting in losses to Oklahoma City, San Antonio and Miami prior to Wednesday's blowout of the 76ers.

''I think we finally caught a good rhythm in the fourth quarter,” coach Mike Budenholzer said. “I thought the ball movement, the decisions, the passes were really helpful and we were able to get enough stops.''

The Hawks outscored Boston 68-36 in the paint to offset a 4-for-20 effort from 3-point range. The NBA's second-best team in 3-point percentage last season, Atlanta is shooting just 27.6 percent from beyond the arc over its last four.

Orlando delivered similar offensive results Friday, finishing with a 52-18 advantage in the paint behind 25 points each from Harris and Nikola Vucevic. The Magic were 2 for 15 from 3 after hitting at a 51.1 percent clip in wins over Brooklyn and Charlotte.

Evan Fournier, Orlando's leader in 3-pointers made, dislocated his pinky finger Friday but is expected to play. So is point guard Elfrid Payton, who had 19 points while playing through a sore left ankle.

Atlanta's Jeff Teague is probable with an ankle injury that limited him to six points and 20 minutes against Boston. The point guard is averaging only 8.8 points on 28.1 percent shooting in his last four, but backup Dennis Schroder has averaged 17.3 points over a three-game stretch and matched a season high with 22 on Friday.

Millsap had 25 points and 11 rebounds in a 95-83 victory at Orlando on March 25 when these teams last met, Atlanta's 15th win in the series' last 18 meetings.