The Atlanta Hawks already have lost more games than they did last season en route to the top playoff seed in the East and their first appearance in the conference finals.
The latest defeat came in heartbreaking fashion at the hands of the Orlando Magic, who haven’t experienced victory much lately.
Atlanta looks to bounce back Monday night by winning for the sixth time in seven games at Philips Arena in the completion of a home-and-home set against an Orlando team seeking back-to-back wins for the first time in 2016.
The Hawks (30-23) had the NBA’s second-best record at 60-22 in 2014-15 before being swept by Cleveland in the conference finals. They again sit atop the Southeast Division despite slipping a bit this season, but they had a three-game winning streak snapped with Sunday’s 96-94 loss to the Magic (22-28).
Atlanta rallied from 14 down behind 24 points from Jeff Teague and 23 from Kent Bazemore, but Nikola Vucevic hit an 18-footer at the buzzer to lift Orlando.
The Hawks shot 38.5 percent after a mark of 52 during their winning streak and fell to 13-15 away from home. They’re the only division leader below .500 on the road.
"We have to stop putting ourselves in that situation of being down 14 on the road," forward Paul Millsap said after finishing with 14 points and shooting 5 of 14. "It is unacceptable. You make it tough on yourself when you dig yourself that hole."
Orlando needed the victory, especially one that came with such a thrilling conclusion. Vucevic finished with 22 points and Evan Fournier added 21 for the Magic, who have lost 15 of 18 in the new year. Aaron Gordon had 11 points and 13 rebounds and Elfrid Payton finished with 12 point and 12 assists.
"It’s been a rough month for us, a lot of losses, so it’s good to get a win against a good team," Vucevic said. "I wasn’t happy about (my six turnovers) and I wanted to make up for it."
Coach Scott Skiles wasn’t pleased with how the Magic nearly let a big lead slip away, though. They went scoreless for a long stretch after Payton’s shot with 3:41 left before Vucevic’s winner ended the drought.
Orlando had lost four straight, including two this season, and 17 of the previous 20 meetings with Atlanta.
"I’ve been in this scenario where we do our best and somehow we get beat because some circumstances happen and you get beat," Skiles said. "We’ve had a lot of close games that have been really disheartening for the guys.
"Human nature is human nature, and we have to battle human nature right now so that we don’t feel like all is lost and we can come back from this. If you are feeling anxious, then it affects your energy and it looks like you aren’t playing hard. So we can’t fall into that trap now."
The Magic got back in the win column despite missing Tobias Harris, who is averaging 13.7 points. Harris hadn’t sat out all season, but he received stitches in his head during Friday’s loss to the Los Angeles Clippers and is dealing with a sore left ankle.
Harris’ status is unclear against Atlanta, which will be without Tiago Splitter until after the All-Star break because of a hip injury.