The best two teams in the Southeast Division are in action tonight, when the Atlanta Hawks travel to Orlando to face the Magic.
Orlando (30-16) enters the game a half game behind the Hawks (30-15) in the division standings. The Hawks are playing their second game in as many nights, after completing a four-game season sweep of the Boston Celtics at home Friday.
The Magic are 17-4 at home while the Hawks have struggled on the road at only 11-10.
The teams have met twice already this season, with the Magic dominating both affairs. Earlier this month in Orlando, the Magic trounced the Hawks 113-81.
Coming off of the huge win against Boston, the Hawks could use a win tonight to help make their case as the second best team in the Eastern Conference.
G – Mike Bibby – 8.9 ppg, 4.3 apg, 2.1 rpg
G – Joe Johnson – 21.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 4.7 apg
F – Josh Smith – 15.0 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 1.5 spg, 2.2 bpg
F – Marvin Williams – 10.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.1 apg
C – Al Horford – 13.5 ppg, 9.7 rpg, 1.3 bpg
G – Jameer Nelson – 11.8 ppg, 4.7apg, 2.9 rpg
G – Vince Carter – 16.2, 4.3 rpg, 2.9 rpg
F – Rashard Lewis – 15.0 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.6 apg
F – Matt Barnes – 8.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.7 apg
C – Dwight Howard – 17.5 ppg, 13.2 rpg, 1.5 apg
Note: using this projected starting lineup, the Magic are 6-7 this season
Matchup to watch: Rashard Lewis vs. Josh Smith
Lewis is a 40 percent three-point shooter, and will make Smith defend hard on the perimeter. If Lewis makes shots, it will help clear the lane for Dwight Howard to go to work against Al Horford. Horford is severely undersized to match up against Dwight Howard, and will need help-side defense just about every time Howard has the ball. Smith would be the best option to fulfill that role. His athleticism on the defensive end will prove to be the key tonight.
Jamal Crawford is one of the most productive sixth men in the league. He has not started a single game for the Hawks, but is second on the team with 17.7 points per game. Zaza Pachulia will have to play strong minutes tonight against Howard. In two games against the Magic this season, Pachulia has averaged 6.5 points and 4 rebounds.
Mickael Pietrus will be the man for Orlando to come in and lock down Atlanta’s Joe Johnson. Pietrus is one of the most underrated defenders in the league, and Johnson is the engine that makes the Hawks offense go.
Who has the edge?
The Magic are a tough match-up for the Hawks, particularly because of Howard. The Hawks’ strength is their length and scoring from their wings. They don’t have a player anywhere near Howard’s size that can match up with him. There aren’t many teams in the league that do have someone to do that, but Atlanta has had trouble with Orlando in recent years.
This is a pivotal game for both teams. Orlando needs a win against a top-level Eastern Conference team to re-assert their status as one of the league’s elite. Atlanta is still trying to prove they are a force in the East.
Pick: Orlando -6