Orlando Magic at Atlanta Hawks: Game Preview

Gary Harris
by Dan Savage

ORLANDO -- Inspired by a post-practice speech from veteran swingman Gary Harris, the Orlando Magic showed much better focus and purpose of play in their last outing, a hard-fought effort against the Milwaukee Bucks.

Now, the Magic will look to carry that same intensity when they go to visit the Atlanta Hawks, who recently clinched a playoff berth, at 7:30 p.m. ET on Thursday.

“Gary Harris talked about readiness, about being ready to start the game, and sustaining play for forty-eight minutes,” Magic Head Coach Steve Clifford said. “That’s what we did better (against the Bucks).”

While Orlando still struggled in some areas, including defensive rebounding and fourth-quarter defense, the intensity level and competitiveness was in stark contrast to their prior game, a lopsided blowout loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

“We looked like a totally different team,” Clifford said. “And to me, the things (Harris) said to the younger guys made the biggest difference. We had a better approach.”

The Magic will need that same mindset if they hope to challenge a Hawks squad that’s won nine consecutive contests at home. They’ll also once again need impressive outings from R.J. Hampton and Cole Anthony, who've had dynamic stretches of play since the trade deadline.

Anthony is averaging team-highs in points (15.4) and assists (4.4) since returning to a starting role on April 16.

Hampton, meanwhile, is continuing to make the most of his increased opportunity, averaging 16.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 5.2 assists over the last six games.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “It’s super valuable and without that, you can’t really win. This is a grown man’s league. So, you need guys like that. Especially as a young team, when guys like that talk, you listen, and you should be listening. It’s not always the way they talk, for me personally, it’s also super cool to experience different dynamics of teams and also to see how veteran leaders lead by example not only by speaking every time. I think that’s super cool to see. Obviously, for me, something to kind of copy or take with me on the road or along my career.” – Moritz Wagner on having the veteran leadership of players like Gary Harris and Terrence Ross on the team.

KEY STAT: The Magic announced on Wednesday that they’ve signed forward Ignas Brazdeikis for the remainder of the season.

Brazdeikis was originally signed to a 10-day contract by Orlando on May 2. He’s played in five games with the Magic, averaging 10.0 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 28.3 minutes per game.

INJURY UPDATE: For Orlando, Mo Bamba (illness; non-COVID) is questionable, while Michael Carter-Williams (sprained left ankle), James Ennis III (sore right calf), Markelle Fultz (torn ACL, left knee), Jonathan Isaac (left knee rehabilitation), Chuma Okeke (sprained left ankle), Otto Porter Jr. (left foot pain), and Terrence Ross (back spasms) are out.

For Atlanta Bogdan Bogdanovic (left hamstring soreness), Clint Capela (right heel pain), Danilo Gallinari (low back soreness), and Trae Young (non-COVID illness) are questionable, while Cam Reddish (right Achilles soreness) and Tony Snell (right Achilles soreness) are out.

RIVALS REPORT: In this edition of our Rivals Report series, we’re joined by longtime NBA analyst Andre Aldridge, who spent nine seasons as the Hawks sideline reporter and currently hosts the A Toast To The A-Town podcast. He was generous enough to take the time and provide his insight on the Hawks.

Savage: “The Hawks recently clinched a top-six seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race. How exciting is it for the fans, the city and the franchise?”

Aldridge: “We’re still a young team with Trae, John Collins and Kevin Huerter really being that young core. So, to see the excitement from them and to see them win that game (was great). First of all, they played against triple-double Russ (Westbrook) two games in a row. I don’t care what Washington’s situation is, even with no Bradley Beal, just to deal with Russ for two games, that’s a handful in itself. They sweep those two games. They sweep the three-game season series with Washington. But John Collins is the one that helped the Hawks secure that win. They make up a thirteen-point fourth-quarter deficit. Just to hear him talk about the fact that they’re extra excited. Inside the locker room they have been talking about getting to the playoffs all year. And he readily admitted, ‘I know I’ve never been. I know it’s going to be harder, but I promise you, I’m going to be ready, and I’m excited.’ I think that tells you what the feeling is for those guys that have not been there.

The other thing to me, Dan, the real reason that you’re there are the offseason acquisitions that they got are really playing their best ball with us at the perfect time of the season for that to happen. I may have questioned the huge amount that Bogdan Bogdanovic was getting the last time we talked, but he’s beyond worth every penny that they spent on him getting him from Sacramento. Maybe, it’s like other sports where guys just needed a little bit of time to get acclimated to a new system, a new coach, a new city, and all that. Bogdanovic and Danilo Gallinari have really been worth their weight in gold for the success the team has had in returning to the playoffs.”

Savage: “This Hawks team has won nine straight games at home. How big would it be for this franchise to lock up the fourth seed and host a first-round playoff series?”

Aldridge: “It’s unbelievable. I know they’re probably going to expand the crowd a little bit. It’s not just that they haven’t been there for three years, but to watch everything that was happening in the bubble for all these guys that are here and are really contributing to where we are right now, now it really feels like you’re part of the deal. It feels like you’re part of the party. Trae is always going to draw the headlines and our style of play definitely reflects him. The numbers would say we are a one-man band, but I think we’re really not. I think we’ve gotten a lot better. And I think that the city has embraced Trae from the jump. But it’s really about getting the team back to postseason play and now, that’s got folks talking. While Trae is the headliner, my goodness, Clint Capela, the double-double machine that he is, he just puts in the work every night. A generation ago, the (John) Stockton and (Karl) Malone pick-and-roll – I’m not saying it’s close to that with two Hall of Famers – but it’s a pretty impressive thing to watch teams try to stop those two work their pick-and-roll game together. When it’s working it’s a beautiful thing and the fact that Trae can shoot it from almost outside of the arena makes defenders have to decide how far they have to go to extend the defense on this guy. If they don’t, he’s going to do a circus shot. If they do get up on him, he’s going to work the pick-and-roll game with Capela, and the possibilities of that really have Atlanta excited for what’s coming up the next couple of weeks.”

Savage: “I’ve had the luxury of chatting with you several times this season, almost for a quarterly report. When you look back, that coaching change seemed to really ignite and be a turning point for the Hawks. Just how much has head coach Nate McMillan meant to this team and how has he helped them get to where they are right now?”

Aldridge: “The coach doesn’t play, obviously, but it really is everything. There have been times during the rebuild, where as a fan, you’re watching and your toughest guy is the guy in the suit – coaches are not wearing suits this season, but (you get my point) – and your toughest guy can’t be the guy in the suit. There have been times over the last three years, where defensively we haven’t been very good and there’s been a physicality that’s been lacking to where (former head coach) Lloyd Pierce was our toughest guy or (former assistant coach) Greg Foster was the toughest guy on our sideline. Now, I think the biggest change has been the attention to detail on defense and the production defensively. You know I’m a big soccer fan. Over in the English Premier League, my EPL team is Chelsea, and their coach was a team legend in Frank Lampard. Well, it was his first coaching job. Unfortunately, with that team, they fire their coaches like it’s nothing. I hated to see that it happened. And I wasn’t sure if I liked the new coach, but the new coach over there has them playing for three trophies in the span of time that’s almost the same span of time that Nate McMillan has taken over here in Atlanta. Just to see with the exact same people, it’s almost a night and day difference. It starts with defense. We shoot the three-ball. The three-ball grabs the headlines, but I think – I don’t have the numbers right in front of me – we were leading the NBA in percentage of points scored from the free throw line. It’s not sexy, but we also make our free throws too. All of that, we can attribute, in part, to Nate. Again, it’s also the vets doing what they do. We shouldn’t leave out Lou Williams, a late season pickup, who’s been a great addition in the locker room and on the floor. There will be zero surprise if we win a playoff game or two singlehandedly because Lou Williams was out there on the floor.”

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