Despite their recent inconsistency, the Atlanta Hawks are still in contention for a top-four seed in the Eastern Conference and home-court advantage for a first-round playoff series.
To make a significant push, the Hawks will likely need to capitalize on a seemingly favorable homestand that begins Saturday night against the lowly Orlando Magic.
Atlanta (40-33) has alternated losses and wins in its last eight contests but remains just 2 1/2 games back of fourth-place Brooklyn in the East. The Hawks would appear to have an opportunity to cut that deficit during a set of four straight home games that features only one opponent in playoff contention.
In the opener to that homestand, Atlanta will try to earn its 10th straight win over Orlando (19-54) and its sixth in a row at home. The Hawks blew out the Magic 108-76 in the most recent meeting Feb. 13, as Josh Smith scored 30 and Al Horford added 26, one of his 31 consecutive games in double figures.
Horford sat out Friday’s visit to Boston with an illness and Smith missed 16 of 23 shots - including all six in the second half - in a 118-107 loss. Despite his shooting woes, Smith finished with 18 points in the finale of a four-game trip, and rookie Mike Scott had a career-high 19 off the bench.
“We had some breakdowns and we kept fighting, which was very encouraging,” coach Larry Drew said.
Horford’s status is unknown for this game and the Hawks have also been playing without Devin Harris (foot) and Zaza Pachulia (Achilles). Reserve guard John Jenkins left Friday’s game with a concussion.
If the Hawks are short-handed again, the Magic will try to take advantage and as they look to win back-to-back games for the first time in about 3 1/2 months. Orlando snapped an eight-game skid Friday as Tobias Harris had a career-high 30 points and 11 rebounds in a 97-92 victory over Washington.
Harris hit a key shot with 1:22 remaining and went three of four from the free-throw line in the final 14 seconds. The second-year forward was joined in the starting lineup along with three rookies - Maurice Harkless Kyle O’Quinn and DeQuan Jones - as the eliminated Magic continue to look toward next season.
The only veteran starter, point guard Jameer Nelson left in the first quarter after spraining his ankle and did not return.
“This was just a great effort by every player who stepped on the floor,” coach Jacque Vaughn said. “We’ve been through a lot of games like this and lost, but tonight, we made free throws, we executed our offense and when we didn’t make shots, we defended. That gave us a chance to stay in the game.”
The Magic, losers in 41 of 48, haven’t earned back-to-back wins since a season-high four-game streak Dec. 14-19, but they’ve dropped six straight on the road and 20 of 23 since Dec. 20.