Hawks-Magic Preview

The Associated Press

The Orlando Magic were hopeful a five-day break would be enough rest for Dwight Howard's sore back so he could take the court for a matchup with the Atlanta Hawks.

It turns out he won't return, although his presence might not have made that much difference anyway.

In a matchup of teams tied for the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference, Orlando looks to avoid losing a sixth straight regular-season game to Atlanta on Friday night at Amway Arena.

Back spasms will cause Howard to miss his third straight contest and fifth in the Magic's seven games this month. Orlando (34-24) has lost three of four in his absence, the most recent a 93-85 defeat to lowly Washington on Tuesday.

Ryan Anderson shot 2 for 10 and had seven points - less than half his season average - in his second game back after missing three with a sprained ankle.

Howard hasn't played since finishing with 20 points and 22 rebounds in a win over Philadelphia on Saturday.

Not surprisingly, the Magic have been soft inside defensively without the three-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year, allowing an average of 44.5 points in the paint in the four games he's missed - 7.8 more than their season average.

That doesn't bode well for facing an Atlanta team averaging 52.5 points in the paint in four games this month. However, facing the Hawks has rarely turned out well lately for the Magic even when Howard is healthy.

Atlanta (34-24) is tied with Orlando for fifth in the East and owns the tiebreaker, having won the first two meetings in the three-game season series.

The Hawks have won five consecutive regular-season contests over the Magic and took a first-round playoff series from them last April in six games.

In the last five meetings during the regular season, Atlanta has limited Orlando to 80.4 points per game on 39.0 percent shooting while holding Howard to an average of 16.0 points.

Josh Smith had 22 points and 12 rebounds for the Hawks in the last meeting - an 83-78 home win Feb. 23 - and finished with 23 points and 19 boards in an 89-87 overtime victory at Amway Arena on Feb. 10.

Smith has averaged 23.5 points and 9.6 rebounds in his last 11 games overall.

He had his 26th double-double Wednesday with 20 points and 11 boards, but Atlanta missed 18 of 20 3-point attempts and lost 88-86 in overtime at Boston. The Hawks, who averaged 112.3 points in winning their previous three games, had won eight of 11 since suffering a three-point home loss to the Celtics on March 19.

"It's twice now we've played this Boston team and the game has come down to the final few seconds of the game and we didn't make the plays," coach Larry Drew said. "We have to learn from it and, more importantly, we need to move on from it."

The Hawks could use a bounce-back performance from Marvin Williams after he finished with four points on 2-of-7 shooting. He had averaged 13.3 points on 65.0 percent shooting in the previous three games, and Atlanta has won its last six contests when the reserve forward scores at least 12.

This is one of only two road games over the final eight contests for the Hawks.

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