Two teams that will likely square off in the first round of the NBA playoffs meet on Wednesday when the Orlando Magic (47-27) visit the Atlanta Hawks (42-32). Orlando holds the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race, sitting four games behind Miami and five games ahead of Atlanta. The Hawks are also four games ahead of Philadelphia and will be looking to win their third straight game and second without leading scorer Joe Johnson, who is expected to sit out again with a sprained thumb.
Atlanta went 5-4 without Johnson in December when he missed time with an elbow injury and can win the season series against the Magic with one another victory here. The Hawks have covered all three meetings this season as underdogs, winning the last two straight-up by an average of eight points. The UNDER has cashed in nine of the past 10 games between the teams.
Johnson was not missed in a 99-83 rout of Cleveland on the road Sunday since Marvin Williams picked up the slack by scoring a season-high 31 points. Al Horford also had 20 points and 10 rebounds for Atlanta while Josh Smith added 13 and 18. The Hawks have covered their last three games with the UNDER cashing in the past two.
“It was something we had to learn to do,” Williams said. “(Johnson) doesn’t miss many games. We knew what we had to do. Everyone had to chip in a little more.”
Orlando is also dealing with injuries, as guards Jameer Nelson (knee), Quentin Richardson (back) and Chris Duhon (thumb) are day-to-day and J.J. Redick (abdomen) will miss his 10th game in a row. Gilbert Arenas filled in for Nelson at the point on Monday and contributed nine points, 10 rebounds and five assists in a 113-106 overtime loss at New York.
The Magic saw All-Star center Dwight Howard foul out in the extra session after scoring a team-high 29 points and grabbing a game-high 18 rebounds against the Knicks, and he then proceeded to pick up his NBA-leading 17th technical. One more tech will lead to a one-game suspension for Howard, who is averaging 26.3 points and 16.7 rebound in the last six games.
“It was a wild, wild game, but we still had a chance to win it if a few things had gone the other way,” Howard said. “It’s an intense game out there and I’m emotional sometimes. My teammates know what is going on, but we’ll just move on.”
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