Magic visit Hawks with playoff hopes taking a hit
The struggling Orlando Magic, trying to stick around in the Eastern Conference playoff race, visit the improving Atlanta Hawks in a holiday matinee Monday afternoon.
Dominating the season series could be a catalyst to a second-half surge as the Magic (19-27) and Hawks (14-31) will see each other four times between Monday and April 5.
Orlando began the season 10-10 but has been heading south in the playoff picture since then, going just 9-17. The Magic have lost three in a row -- including to Detroit and Brooklyn, teams they hope to catch in their quest to make the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
"We can't keep digging ourselves such a hole," veteran center Nikola Vucevic said after Saturday's 118-108 home loss to Milwaukee.
"This is it for us. Every game for us on the board is like a Game 7. We don't have any margin for error any more. This is it for us and this is our season. So we either show that we're built to do this or not. So we'll see how we all react."
The Magic put forth a competitive effort against the Bucks despite missing Aaron Gordon, who tweaked his back in Friday's loss to Brooklyn.
Orlando hopes to get Gordon back Monday.
The Magic not only need one of their best players back, but need him on top of his game. Gordon had 28 and 22 points when the Magic recorded back-to-back wins over Boston and Houston last week, the club's two more recent wins.
Gordon had scored 20 or more 12 times this season; the Magic has won nine of those games.
The Hawks have been getting that type of impactful play from forward John Collins of late. He put up 25 points in a win over Philadelphia last week, then went one better on a 26-point night in Tuesday's win over Oklahoma City.
Atlanta begins the week in 12th place in the East, one spot behind Orlando, but has been the better of the two of late, going 8-8 in its last 16 games, capped by the aforementioned impressive wins over the 76ers and Thunder.
Rookies Trae Young and Kevin Huerter have played big roles in the improved play, and in the past week DeAndre' Bembry has joined the productive crew, scoring in double figures in four straight, including 14 and 16 in the wins over the 76ers and Thunder.
Bembry has started the past seven games after having come off the bench in all but two of Atlanta's first 38 games.
A head-to-head assignment on Thunder standout Russell Westbrook on Tuesday helped convince Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce that the promotion has been deserved.
"I think it's important to play with confidence, play with swag, and to take a challenge like a guy like Russell Westbrook and to step up to compete and be able to perform on the offensive end as well," the coach expressed to reporters in the wake of the win. "That's who Dre is, and that's what he's done."
--Field Level Media
Updated January 20, 2019