Orlando Magic vs. Atlanta Hawks Pick & Prediction JANUARY 7th 2024

The Orlando Magic’s recent road trip was just about as heart racing as it could be – and it nearly was a complete bust.

Losers in three of four games on a trip that began last weekend, the Magic look to get back on track when they play host to the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday.

After a 112-107 loss to the Suns on New Year’s Eve, a 121-115 loss to the Warriors on Tuesday and a 138-135 double-overtime defeat at Sacramento on Wednesday, the Magic salvaged something out of their trip with a 122-120 victory over the defending champion Denver Nuggets on Friday.

Even with the team’s inability to win a close game of late, outside of Friday, the emergence of second-year player Paolo Banchero was on full display.

Banchero averaged 32.5 points, 8.8 rebounds and 7.3 assists over the four games and notched the first triple-double of his young career at Denver, tallying 32 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists, all while leading Orlando to an 18-point second half comeback.

“(Paolo) is special,” Magic head coach Jamahl Mosley said. “He’s beyond special. He hasn’t even scratched the surface of what he’s capable of doing. More importantly, is the fact that he’s doing it the right way and leading his team to try to find ways to win.

“We’ve said that from the beginning, he is going to find a way to help his team win.”

Off to their best start through 35 games since the 2011-12 season, the Magic are doing something that they haven’t done since Banchero was a junior in high school – contend for a spot in the NBA playoffs.

Currently sixth in the jumbled Eastern Conference standings, Orlando can better its spot with a win over the Hawks, who have been unable to gain any traction.

Atlanta’s biggest problem this season has been its defense. The most recent defensive struggles came during a 150-116 loss in Indiana to the Pacers on Friday. The Pacers set a franchise record with 50 assists.

The Hawks, who give up the third most points per game in the league at 123.9, allowed the Pacers to make 60 of their 94 (63.8 percent) shots from the field and 19 of their 39 (48.7 percent) 3-pointers.

The 34-point drubbing was never competitive outside of Atlanta’s 6-0 start on a pair of 3-pointers.

“I don’t know that we did anything at the level that we needed to in order to win against these guys,” Hawks head coach Quin Snyder said. “We need to run back harder on defense. Even early in the game, you need to have a sense of urgency against these guys in transition. That’s something we have got to clean up. We have got to be ready to go in Orlando.”

The Hawks’ scoring was led by Dejounte Murray, who poured in 30 points on 13 of 19 shooting amidst swirling trade rumors. Yahoo Sports reported this week that the Hawks have made their second leading scorer (20.9 points per game) available before the Feb. 8 trade deadline.

“I really like our team,” Snyder said. “There’s always chatter and rumors and things like that, but I’m not going to comment on those things.”

If Atlanta does part ways with Murray, it would have been a short stint. The 27-year-old was acquired in 2022 and finalized a four-year, $120 million extension in the 2023 offseason.

–Field Level Media

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