Orlando Magic vs. Atlanta Hawks: Game Preview

Nikola Vucevic
by Dan Savage

ORLANDO -- Coming off their West Coast trip, the Orlando Magic spoke internally two weeks ago about the importance of building momentum heading into the All-Star break.

With seven of their final eight games at home, the Magic viewed it as an opportunity to put themselves in position to handle a difficult second half schedule.

While that stretch started off strong with Orlando (13-22) winning the first three games, it’s now dropped four in a row and it will need a victory over the Atlanta Hawks (15-20) on Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET to go .500 over that span and build momentum heading into the break.

“Any time you can get a win in this league, it’s helpful,” Magic backup point guard Chasson Randle explained. “Especially with the position that we’re in, heading into All-Star break if we can win tonight (and) grab some momentum pushing into the second half of the season, I think it will do us a lot of wonder.”

Orlando will certainly be looking to build off a strong offensive showing against the Dallas Mavericks. Even though it came in a defeat, in that outing, the Magic knocked down 20 3-pointers and poured in 124 points. It was the first time this season – they were previously 5-0 – that the team scored 120-plus points and lost.

“Guys continue to work,” said Magic forward Al-Farouq Aminu. “A lot of times you’re going to see the benefits of that. That’s what I’m really proud of. No matter how things are going, I see guys every day coming in making sure they get their work in.”

KEY STAT: Against the Mavericks, the Magic went 20-for-41 from 3-point range. It was just the third time in team history that Orlando knocked down 20-plus triples in a game. The other two occasions came on Dec. 5, 2008 against Denver when the Magic knocked down 20 threes in an overtime matchup and on Jan. 13, 2009 at Sacramento where Orlando set its franchise record with 23 3-pointers.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “He’s my dark horse to win it. I’m not just saying that because he’s my teammate. He’s skilled and he shows it every night with his ability to pass the basketball. He’s shown off his handle driving into the paint and his craftiness around the rim and everything. I think he’ll do great and like I said, he’s my dark horse to win it.” Randle on Nikola Vucevic’s participation in the NBA All-Star Taco Bell Skills Challenge.

INJURY UPDATE: The Magic will be without Cole Anthony (non-displaced fracture, right rib), Evan Fournier (strained left groin), Aaron Gordon (left ankle sprain), Markelle Fultz (torn ACL, left knee), James Ennis III (sore left calf), and Jonathan Isaac (left knee rehabilitation). Karim Mane (G League/two-way) is not available.

For the Hawks, Kris Dunn (right ankle surgery), De’Andre Hunter (right knee surgery), and Cam Reddish (right Achilles soreness) did not play on Tuesday against the Miami Heat.

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 kind enough to take the time and provide his insight on the Hawks.

Savage: “You worked with former Hawks Head Coach Lloyd Pierce for a number of years. What do you think went into their decision-making process to move on and what are some of your fondest memories of him?

Aldridge: “Obviously, the unfortunate part is that you lose your job. You get your first NBA head coaching job, you get a three-year deal, we’re in year three – sure the team has an option for year four – but you’re in year three and (the expectation) is we’re going to get to the playoffs this year. You definitely needed to do that. You felt that pressure. I just think the injuries were as big of a factor as anything, but for the fanbase and everyone else, the playoffs are still an expectation. Through thirty-four games, to have eleven fourth-quarter leads that they weren’t able to hold onto, regardless of your roster or who’s out there, that’s going to come back bad on the coach. My feeling is he was a great guy to talk to. He was an unbelievably honest coach as far as explaining how he felt. Of course, once the guy is gone you hear all these stories about him and Trae (Young) maybe not getting along or what (about their) relationship. Look, for any young coach, you don’t really know those relationships until something bad happens or until the guy is gone. But the guy has to figure out how do I manage a young star who is now in his third year at age of twenty-two, who has the keys to the franchise, and how do I try to win games and get my program going? With all that being said, yes, you’re a basketball coach. Yes, your job is to get wins. His impact in our community, off the court, in the long run is going to be bigger than anything he did on the court. The drive during last summer during the social unrest. He was one of the first coaches to generate that we’re going to have our arena as a voting facility. Obviously, that goes through ownership and ownership has to be onboard and I applaud (Hawks owner) Tony Ressler and his group too. But as a head coach, Lloyd Pierce drove a lot of that. So as much as anything he did on the court, I’m going to remember that probably more than anything else.”

Savage: “You touched on the injuries, just how much a factor have those been in this season for the Hawks?”

Aldridge: “I believe, and the team has said, that there are no excuses. So, that means when you blow a fourth-quarter lead, you don’t come after the game and say ‘man, if we just had De’Andre,’ or ‘if we just had Kris Dunn,’ or if we just had so-and-so, we would have been ok. That’s never happened. They’ve never used that excuse. But the reality is that a team that is struggling to get into the playoffs after a three-year absence, can’t afford to lose one of their best players in De’Andre Hunter for two months, one of the big additions defensively in Kris Dunn, who hasn’t played one minute this season, your top-ten draft choice (Onyeka Okongwu) was injured when you drafted him, so he’s behind. I just think they’ve been affected so much. We’re talking before they play the Orlando Magic and everybody in Central Florida can say ‘welcome to the club.’ We know all about injuries. It’s unfortunate, but it is indeed a part of sports. But how good this team can be under Nate McMillan even with their health situation? If there’s market improvement, it’ll really lend to how good of a veteran coach Nate McMillan is, working with what he has there, and a young coach not being able to deal with them.”

Savage: “When you look at the Hawks, it all starts with Trae Young. You’ve watched his entire Hawks career, how have you seen him develop and take strides in his game?”

Aldridge: “Since I’ve seen every one of his games and I’m a native of Southern California, I want to bring up Magic Johnson in a sense. Sure, there’s no comparison in their games and no comparison in anything about them other than their flashiness. And of course, Magic knowing about championships from high school to college to getting into the NBA. But one of the big negatives for Magic was when Paul Westhead got fired and you’re labeled the coach killer. Whether Westhead needed to go or not, to me, it was on Magic to get past that and really prove that he’s about winning. Obviously, we saw all of that. Now, Trae Young is the biggest individual star the Atlanta Hawks have had since Dominique Wilkins. For all the positivity that comes with that, we haven’t been to the playoffs. Ultimately, it has to be about winning. Now that coach Pierce is gone, a day later the stories are coming out about the relationship with Lloyd and Trae not being that good. To me, you, as a twenty-two-year-old have to decide, beyond just your game, beyond the flashiness of how you can score, and beyond your unhappiness of not becoming an All-Star for the second straight year, how much are you about winning? How much are you about going beyond what people are saying? And that’s yet to be seen. But, the overall talent, the fun of his game and everything, I watched that grow, but it’s going to have to continue to grow. You have the key, especially for a point guard, it’s on you. We’ve lost six of our last eight games to the Orlando Magic. Do you take that personally when you take the floor tonight? You’ve had big games, you’ve scored points, but we’ve lost six of eight, so you come in with a chip on your shoulder in your second game under Nate McMillan and say, ‘you know what, I really want to get these guys.’ You as the leader of this team, what goes along with you being this flashy, biggest individual star? It’s all about winning games. So, that’s the growth that I want to see and hope to see.”

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