Orlando Magic at Atlanta Hawks: Game Preview

Gary Harris
by Dan Savage

Each NBA season, there are always parts of the schedule that are more arduous than others. Whether it’s stretches of challenging opponents, lengthy road trips, or periods with condensed game slates, there are always elements of the league calendar that put teams to the test.

Currently on the plate for the Orlando Magic is a stretch of the season that contains all of those ingredients. Over the next eight days, Orlando embarks on a five-game road stint with stops against a series of high-quality Eastern Conference opponents.

The Magic (3-10) make their first stop on that journey on Monday when they pay visit to one of their Southeast Division rivals, the Atlanta Hawks (5-9), at 7:30 p.m. ET.

“It starts with Trae Young and how he’s the head of the snake with this team,” said Magic Head Coach Jamahl Mosley. “His ability to make the easy play and the easy passes. But then, his ability to knock down shots. We have to mix up the defenses with him, understand we’re going to see different coverages, how we’re going to play him, and then rebounding the basketball. Between (John) Collins, (Clint) Capela, and (Gorgui) Dieng, those guys are very good offensive rebounders. So, we just have to make sure we limit them to one possession and then we have to be able to get out and run offensively.”

Making matters even tougher for Orlando is that it could be without rookie guard Jalen Suggs. The 6-foot-5 guard sprained his right ankle after stepping on the foot of Montrezl Harrell early in the fourth quarter of the Magic’s loss to the Wizards on Saturday.

Although the No. 5 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft is still searching to find his groove offensively, he’s made an impact on the defensive end and been part of a starting unit that has the league’s second-best net rating (15.4) for any group that’s seen at least 75 minutes of court time together this season.

“We talk about his ability to get hit on screens, try to fight through screens, diving on the floor, all those little things, the ‘bell plays,’” said Mosley of Suggs, who went through shootaround, but is still considered a game-time decision. “That’s the one thing about him that I’ve been impressed with the most. His competitive spirit.”

If Suggs is unable to go, Orlando will likely turn to one of its veteran guards, Gary Harris or Terrence Ross, to step into the starting lineup.

KEY STAT: Hustle plays continue to be a key indicator in Orlando’s success. In the Magic’s three wins this season, they’ve averaged 7.7 loose balls recovered, 6.3 blocks, 14.7 deflections and one charge. Those averages are lower in losses – 5.1 loose balls recovered, 4.9 blocks, 13.2 deflections and 0.7 charges. Read more about those ‘bell plays’ here.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “They’re a good three-point shooting team, so we have to close out, get to them quick – they can get going quick – and just play hard, play together, play defense, (and) just move the ball.” – Magic forward Chuma Okeke, an Atlanta native, on the keys to victory against the Hawks.

IN AND OUT: As mentioned Suggs (ankle) is questionable, while Michael Carter-Williams (left ankle), Markelle Fultz (left knee), Jonathan Isaac (left knee), and E’Twaun Moore (left knee sprain) all remain out for Orlando.

Atlanta’s injury report is still yet to be submitted.

RIVALS REPORT: In this edition of our Rivals Report series, we’re joined by Sarah K. Spencer, who covers the Hawks for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She was kind enough to take the time to answer three questions about the team prior to their matchup with the Magic.

Savage: “A lot has been made about the NBA rule changes and how they’ve affected players like Trae Young. How have you seen them affect Atlanta’s point guard this season?”

Spencer: “His free throws have definitely gone down to start the season. He was at 8.7 attempts last season, and he’s at 5.4 free throw attempts per game to start this season. I think the biggest way it’s affected him is when he’s driving to the rim. Out on the perimeter, Trae Young – I’ve actually asked him about this – said that some of the changes needed to be made to the rules as far as shooters jumping into defenders or launching into defenders, things like that. But I think the biggest way it’s affected him is when he’s driving to the rim and you’re around bigger defenders in the paint and he’s knocked off balance or something like that. I think that’s being called a little bit less. So, it’s definitely affected his free throws to start the season. He’s actually averaging 25.7 points per game, which is on par with what he averaged last year. Obviously, it’s a small sample size because the season just started. But as far as scoring, he’s still averaging the same, it’s just his points are coming a little bit differently because he’s not getting to the line as much, at least to start the season.”

Savage: “Obviously, the Hawks have not tipped off the season the way they wanted to. What do you think have been the major factors for their slow start?”

Spencer: “I think there’s a few things. First of all, just sorting out chemistry and rotations on a team this deep can be challenging, at least at the beginning. You have two guys in De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish, who missed extensive time last season, but are getting major minutes this season. Except until recently when De’Andre Hunter got hurt. He’ll have wrist surgery today and will actually be out eight weeks. So, that’s another thing to look out for because the Hawks will certainly miss him on both ends of the floor. But I think incorporating those two guys and just trying to figure out rotations has been something that the Hawks are still figuring out. Last night, (Hawks Head Coach) Nate McMillan actually staggered starters more with the bench unit and that worked very well. So, I think figuring that out has been something they’re working through.

Also, Clint Capela, who had an injection in his Achilles leading into the preseason, has not fully looked himself, especially defensively. He was such an anchor for the Hawks last season. You can tell he still has it in him, he’s just not full speed. He just not at one hundred percent as he’s working back. But the past two games, he has looked better and has had more pep in his step. He’s been honest that it’s something he’s still working through and getting treatment on. But I think Clint not being one hundred percent on both ends of the floor, finishing at the rim and overall defensively, has affected the Hawks. But he has looked better the past two games, so I think that’s something that they’re encouraged by.

The Hawks have also had some other guys working up to one hundred percent too. They were very injury plagued last year, unfortunately. And that kind of carried into the preseason and a little bit of this season. A guy like Kevin Huerter wasn’t even running until training camp. So, you’re seeing guys like Huerter, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and De’Andre Hunter – although he’ll be out for a while now – all of those guys were still getting back into this swing of things. So, I think that’s the thing that’s affecting them too, although with Clint it’s starting to even out a little bit."

Savage: “You mentioned the depth of the Hawks’ roster. After Trae, in your opinion, which player on Atlanta's roster will have the biggest impact in determining how far the Hawks go this season?”

Spencer: “At this point, I would say John Collins. John has been incredibly reliable and efficient to start this season. He’s at 16.5 points and 8.4 rebounds. But honestly, John is the kind of guy where the boxscore doesn’t tell the full story. He’s doing a lot of the small things that they need. He’s bringing a lot of energy and he’s been active defensively. He’s a guy who Nate has started playing with the second unit a little bit and they’re able to feature him and he can play with (Danilo Gallinari) when they want to play a little bit smaller. That’s worked well recently for them. If the Hawks can get consistent play from John like he has been playing, I think that will be huge for them this season.”

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