The Atlanta Hawks are in Orlando to take on Nikola Vucevic and the Magic on Sunday night. These teams really should be heading in two different directions, but the Hawks have not really shown an intention to tank. Now, they are the fourth worst team in the East and the fifth worst in the NBA in terms of schedule. To be honest, I think the Hawks will probably end the year in that spot due to the distance between 4th and 6th. They would have to rely on the Bulls, Cavs, Suns, or Knicks to win significantly more games than likely or the teams above them would have to use every single game. Basically, the Hawks are pretty locked into a draft lottery position, and they can continue to win if they like because they are likely not going to get any better footing either way.
The Magic do actually want to win this game, and I expect to see them extend minutes for some guys soon. The Magic run a pretty standard rotation, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more 36-38 minute games out of the starters than 32-34 minute games. The Magic are one game back of the Heat, tied with Charlotte and two games ahead of the Wizards for the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference. The Heat and Hornet also play tomorrow, so the Magic can gain ground on one of their competitors with a win here.
Magic Won Prior Encounters
These two teams have played each other twice, with the Magic emerging victorious in very similar fashions in Atlanta. The two Magic wins (122-103 and 124-108) both saw heavy doses of Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier. In the first matchup, the Magic were without Aaron Gordon, which caused both of these two to play more minutes, as the game was close entering the fourth quarter before they pulled away. The second matchup was incredibly balanced. The Magic starters did not play over 30 minutes outside of Evan Fournier. All 5 starters scored in double digits, and no one scored more than 20. Wes Iwundu also chipped in with 10 off the bench.
In these two games, Atlanta ran a lineup really similar to what I would expect in this game. Game one had no Kevin Huerter and Kent Bazemore, which forced Bembry into the starting lineup, but the team is rather similar today. I do expect the starters to see a little more run than they were getting at the time which should help. If there was a most improved player from game 1 to game 82, I think Trae Young and Jalen Brunson would be in a clear two-man race, which could change this matchup a little. However, both of these games were in 2019, where Young seemed to turn the corner from worst PER in the league to a good, young prospect.
Both Teams Trying to Find Their Footing
Both of these teams are losers of 4 of their last 6 games, so I think that they’re in rather even footing in that aspect. The Magic are coming off of a win over the Cavs, while the Hawks lost to the Celtics by nine on Saturday. I think these two tasks are really about equal, but the Magic may benefit from the rest in the fourth quarter and the day off.
Take the Hawks
I think these teams are probably more similar in talent level than most think. The Hawks are playing much better team basketball of late, even if it doesn’t quite show in their record. The Hawks have not been in a game decided by more than 10 points in their last 12 games besides a big win over Memphis. This include games against the Rockets, Celtics, Heat, and Pistons. I think that the Magic’s overall urgency to win this game as a coaching staff should give them the edge, but I like Atlanta (+7.5) in this spot.