The Eastern Conference Playoff race is alive and well for Friday Night, as the Orlando Magic (34-24, 19-11 home) bring on the Atlanta Hawks (34-24, 15-16 away) for a critical match-up at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, with tip-off set to take place at 7:00 PM ET.
With a three-way tie between the Boston Celtics, Orlando Magic and the Atlanta Hawks in place heading into tonight’s clash, the stakes are big and the result is of paramount importance for the Magic and the Hawks, as the winner this evening will take sole possession of 5th place in the Eastern Conference playoff picture. For Orlando at home tonight though, they’ll have to overcome an Atlanta team that has certainly had their number historically, with the Hawks winners of 5 straight regular season match-ups against the Magic, also having removed Orlando from last year’s NBA Playoffs in the first round. Adding to Orlando’s difficulties with Atlanta in tonight’s match-up, they’ll have to find a way to fill the void left by star forward Dwight Howard, who will miss his third consecutive game and 4th on the month with reoccurring back spasms. There couldn’t be a worse time for Howard to be absent, as the Magic have lost three of four games without him in the lineup, mainly hurting on the defensive side of the ball without the reigning Defensive Player of the Year clogging up the inside lanes. Against an Atlanta Hawks team that has played outstanding defense against the Magic, allowing an average of just 80.4 points per game over the last 5 victories and holding Orlando to 39 percent shooting, the home team tonight has to respond first and foremost with a better shooting effort on their home court, and find a way to limit the effectiveness of Atlanta’s top performers, starting with power forward Josh Smith.
Smith and the Hawks, while being edged out in overtime at Boston 88-86 on Wednesday, have otherwise been flying high winning 8 of their last 11 games, and in their 2nd to last road match-up of the season (they have a favorable 6 of 7 remaining games after tonight coming at home) they’ll look to return to their high-scoring ways, which had seen them score in excess of 110 points on average in winning 3 straight prior to meeting with Boston this week. Josh Smith, averaging 23 points and 8.8 rebounds in his last 5 starts, will be the go-to shooter tonight for Atlanta, and should have the quickness to do damage inside the lanes against the Howard-less Magic. Shooting the ball well at 53.8 percent over those 5 recent games, expect Smith to be on top of the scorers’ sheet tonight. Also essential for Atlanta to keep their scoring up is seeing a better night from Marvin Williams, who comes off a struggling performance against Boston, making just 2 out of 7 shots from the floor. Averaging 13 points/game in the three straight Atlanta wins before being held to just 4 points versus the Celtics, Williams will be a boost for Atlanta if he can return to double figures in scoring. Add in a quality night for an improving Zaza Pachulia, the Hawks starting center who has been filling in for the injured Al Horford, and Atlanta could see their way past Orlando once again to sweep the season series.
For Orlando, there’s no question that having Dwight Howard on the sidelines is not conducive to picking up a notch in the win column, however noting the way Howard has struggled against the Hawks this year (averaging 16 points/game, down from a season average of 20.6 points), throwing a curve ball with Glen Davis starting in Howard’s place might be a welcome change of pace. Davis, averaging 8.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game as a reserve, has stepped up big-time recently, averaging 19.4 points and 11 rebounds per contest. His physical presence inside the paint is crucial against Atlanta, who has a number of talented power forward-type players, and getting a good game out of Davis on both offense and defense will be a huge boost for the Magic at home. Another key area for Orlando tonight will be their perimeter shooting, with the team knocking down 3-pointers at a 38.1 percent clip on the season. With Ryan Anderson now back in the line-up but yet to get back into shooting form (1-for-7 from 3-pt range in a loss to lowly Washington on Tuesday), his plus-40 percent 3-point efforts will also be needed. J.J. Redick (41.8 percent from 3-point range) has also helped the Magic to the second-highest 3-point shooting rate and the most 3-pointers made in the NBA at home, so seeing him continue his shooting groove (averaging 18 points/game in the last 3 contests) would be beneficial to Stan Van Gundy’s side as well. Without Howard and shooting forward Hedo Turkoglu in the lineup however, the smaller, more agile Magic players need to be assertive and selective with their shots, so as to avoid too many forced plays that lead to low-percentage shots. A high-percentage shooting Magic team can avoid the series sweep in this match-up with the Hawks, but a Magic team that forces the deep ball, or doesn’t balance the offense out across a number of players, will inevitably find themselves dropping a sixth straight game against Atlanta on their home court.
Betting Lines for the Orlando Magic vs. Atlanta Hawks at the Intertops Sportsbook
The money line is tight for tonight’s match-up of Southeast division rivals, with the Hawks getting the nod as favorite with -125 odds straight up. Orlando could be an interesting pick-up via their solid 19-11 record at home, considering their +105 underdog status there, with reservations of course due to the poor record against Atlanta and the absence of two key scorers, Dwight Howard and Hedo Turkoglu.
Against the spread, once again the betting lines are tight as the Hawks get the slight edge at -1.5 points going to them as favorites, at -110 odds. Orlando has just +1.5 to play with as underdogs, and with the series so far being decided by an average of 3.5 points in 2 games this season (including one overtime game), no doubt this game will also finish with the score very tight. Orlando is 16-14 against the spread at home this season, while Atlanta is 17-12-2 ATS on the road.
On the total points line, the over/under sits at 182.5 points, which is lenient considering that the past two contests between the two teams have seen just 176 and 161 points scored (the game with 176 points went into overtime as well). In order for the over bet to be worthwhile, expectations have to be high that the Magic will regain their shooting form, which has been absent over the past two years versus the Hawks. Likewise though, with a return to the high-scoring ways that Atlanta has seen recently with their quick and agile line-up, a bust out of the points line could be expected in this final meeting between the two rivals.
While this game may be a very tough call to make straight up, as both teams try to regain form for the final push down the home stretch of the season, Atlanta has to be considered as the team to beat, with the upper hand both in the personnel department, and by virtue of their confidence gained after having owned Orlando over the past 5 games and also last year’s playoffs. Look for the Hawks to come out with stingy defense, guarding the perimeter closely, and expect them to have success in penetrating the lanes as Glen Davis will have his hands full trying to deal with everything the Hawks throw his way. Any way you wager on tonight’s game, expect an exciting outcome and a great opportunity for online sportsbook betting at one of the best online sportsbooks reviewed here at Intertops Sportsbook.