Hawks-Magic Preview

The Orlando Magic are playing better of late and the evidence comes from their last two performances.

After making plays down the stretch to hold off the Miami Heat Monday, the Magic pulled off a stunning comeback against the Cleveland Cavaliers Tuesday.

On Thursday, the Magic get an opportunity at getting a third straight win when they host the Atlanta Hawks and they may be getting a key piece back.

Orlando (17-36) is on its first winning streak since Nov. 8-10 when it raced out to a surprising 8-4 start. From Nov. 11-Jan. 12, the Magic lost 23 of 27 games with 16 of those defeats coming by double digits.

Since a 130-113 loss at Washington, the Magic are 5-5 in their last 10 games. Four of the defeats are by single digits and four wins are against teams with winning records.

For a while, Tuesday was shaping up to be a double-digit loss as Orlando fell behind by 21 points in the second quarter. Instead, the Magic pulled off a 116-98 shocker with plenty of stunning numbers.

Over the final 29:48, the Magic outscored the Cavaliers 73-34, including 24-9 in the fourth quarter. It was Orlando’s biggest comeback of the season and matched the sixth-largest comeback in team history.

The Magic it without Aaron Gordon, who missed his fifth straight game with a hip flexor and will sit out again Thursday. They almost did it without Jonathan Simmons, who sprained his right ankle on the tiebreaking dunk Monday.

Instead, Simmons produced the game of his life with 34 points. He scored 29 after halftime, including 22 in the third period, highlighted by a buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of the quarter.

The Magic also achieved their win without center Nikola Vucevic. Vucevic hasn’t played since Dec. 23 due to a fractured hand and is listed as questionable for Thursday.

Evan Fournier added 19 as Orlando shot 52.9 percent, raising its shooting percentage in the last 10 games 48.6 after shooting 44.8 percent in the previous 27.

“We’re making improvement,” Orlando guard Shelvin Mack told reporters. “Earlier in the year, if we were down 20, it would turn into a 40-point loss.”

Orlando can match its longest winning streak of the season after the stunner against one of the league’s most scrutinized teams. The Magic also won three straight Oct. 21-27 when it sandwiched a 41-point showing by Gordon around double-digit wins over Cleveland and San Antonio.

Atlanta (16-37) owns the worst record in the East but like Orlando, the Hawks are playing of late. Since a one-point loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Jan. 8, the Hawks are 7-7 in their last 14 games.

Atlanta is on its third winning streak and its previous two attempts to get a third straight win resulted in a 111-98 loss at Toronto on Dec. 29 and a 113-97 loss vs. Chicago on Jan. 20.

The Hawks followed up a 99-96 win at New York Sunday by getting a 108-82 win over Memphis Tuesday.

Dennis Schroder scored 22 points after going 2 of 16 Sunday. Rookie John Collins added 15 and 10 rebounds in a game where Marco Belinelli was held out.

Belinelli, who is averaging 11.4 points and shooting 37.2 percent from 3-point range, could become a former Hawk by the time they take the court next since Thursday is the trade deadline.

“That’s part of the business,” Schroder told reporters . “The NBA, you never know what’s going to happen. Marco, I’ve become good friends with him this season. … He’s our brother, no matter what happens.”

What the Hawks would like to see happen Thursday would be a reprise of their last two games, especially defensively. The Hawks have allowed less than 100 points in 12 games and this is the first time they have done so in consecutive games.

Against the Knicks and Grizzlies, the Hawks allowed their opponents to shoot 9 of 47 from 3-point range, scored 53 points off 42 turnovers.

The teams split a pair of close games in a span of three days in Dec. Fournier scored 27 points in a 110-106 overtime home win on Dec. 6 while Ersan Illaysova scored 26 to lead Atlanta to a 117-110 home win.