Neither of the Southeast Division's top teams thought they played like contenders when they squared off in the opener of a home-and-home series. The Orlando Magic and the Atlanta Hawks have a chance to redeem themselves in the finale Friday.The Magic look to build on a narrow road victory and extend their longest home winning streak in nearly three years when they host the Hawks, who hope to avoid another slow start.
Orlando (28-8) has won 10 straight at Amway Arena since a 100-95 loss to Houston on Nov. 22. It's the team's longest run at home since taking 12 straight from March 10-April 15, 2006.
To keep their current streak alive, however, the Magic may need to finish stronger than they did Wednesday night. They led by as many as 21 points, but struggled down the stretch in a 106-102 win over the Hawks.
Atlanta native Dwight Howard had 23 points and 19 rebounds, and Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu added 20 points apiece as the Magic improved to 6-1 within the division and moved five games ahead of the second-place Hawks (22-12).
The Magic, though, were outscored 32-20 in the fourth quarter, going 5-for-16 from the field with four turnovers and barely holding off the Hawks.
"We exhaled too early," said Howard, who recorded his league-leading 26th double-double. "We gave them a chance to come back. ... We have to learn to put teams away."
While Howard was upset with his team's weak finish, Hawks players were equally frustrated with their slow start in their first division loss of the season.
"We have to take what we did in the fourth quarter and learn from that," second-year center Al Horford said. "They had their way (early). Everyone was making their shots. They were executing very well. We eventually came back, but we can't wait until the fourth quarter to play.
"We can't spot a team 21 points. It's dangerous when you play like that, and we have to learn how to not let teams jump out to a big lead on us."
Hawks point guard Mike Bibby, who went 6-for-17 from the field Wednesday and missed a wide-open layup with less than a minute remaining, expects Atlanta to bounce back in the rematch.
"It happens. The good thing is we've got them Friday in Orlando," he said. "We let one get away here."
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy is just as aware that the Hawks could put up a stronger fight in Orlando.
"Tonight, they missed," Van Gundy said. "I don't anticipate they'll do that two nights in a row. When they play us Friday, it could be a tough night."
The Hawks won their first game in Orlando, getting 25 points from Joe Johnson in a 99-85 victory in both teams' season opener Oct. 29.
Johnson, held to 13 points and 5-for-17 shooting Wednesday, has averaged 28.8 points and shot 52.4 percent from the field to lead the Hawks to three wins in their last four games at Amway Arena, where the Magic are 15-3 this season.
This is the last meeting between these teams until they close their season series April 4 in Atlanta.