Magic-Hawks Preview

Despite their recent inconsistency, the Atlanta Hawks are still
in contention for a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference and
home-court advantage for a first-round playoff series.

To make a significant push, the Hawks will likely need to
capitalize on a seemingly favorable homestand that begins Saturday
night against the lowly Orlando Magic.

Atlanta (40-33) has alternated losses and wins in its last eight
contests but remains just 2 1/2 games back of fourth-place Brooklyn
in the East. The Hawks would appear to have an opportunity to cut
that deficit during a set of four straight home games that features
only one opponent in playoff contention.

In the opener to that homestand, Atlanta will try to earn its
10th straight win over Orlando (19-54) and its sixth in a row at
home. The Hawks blew out the Magic 108-76 in the most recent
meeting Feb. 13, as Josh Smith scored 30 and Al Horford added 26,
one of his 31 consecutive games in double figures.

Horford sat out Friday’s visit to Boston with an illness and
Smith missed 16 of 23 shots – including all six in the second half
– in a 118-107 loss. Despite his shooting woes, Smith finished with
18 points in the finale of a four-game trip, and rookie Mike Scott
had a career-high 19 off the bench.

“We had some breakdowns and we kept fighting, which was very
encouraging,” coach Larry Drew said.

Horford’s status is unknown for this game and the Hawks have
also been playing without Devin Harris (foot) and Zaza Pachulia
(Achilles). Reserve guard John Jenkins left Friday’s game with a
concussion.

If the Hawks are short-handed again, the Magic will try to take
advantage and as they look to win back-to-back games for the first
time in about 3 1/2 months. Orlando snapped an eight-game skid
Friday as Tobias Harris had a career-high 30 points and 11 rebounds
in a 97-92 victory over Washington.

Harris hit a key shot with 1:22 remaining and went three of four
from the free-throw line in the final 14 seconds. The second-year
forward was joined in the starting lineup along with three rookies
– Maurice Harkless, Kyle O’Quinn and DeQuan Jones – as the
eliminated Magic continue to look toward next season.

The only veteran starter, point guard Jameer Nelson, left in the
first quarter after spraining his ankle and did not return.

“This was just a great effort by every player who stepped on the
floor,” coach Jacque Vaughn said. “We’ve been through a lot of
games like this and lost, but tonight, we made free throws, we
executed our offense and when we didn’t make shots, we defended.
That gave us a chance to stay in the game.”

The Magic, losers in 41 of 48, haven’t earned back-to-back wins
since a season-high four-game streak Dec. 14-19, but they’ve
dropped six straight on the road and 20 of 23 since Dec. 20.