Orlando may not be able to secure the No. 1 seed, but the Magic just made a case that they might be the team to beat in the Eastern Conference playoffs.While Orlando looks for its 15th win in 18 games Saturday night, the struggling Atlanta Hawks try to reach 30 wins at home for the first time in 12 seasons.
Apparently the Magic's players-only meeting following Wednesday's 99-95 loss to the lowly Toronto Raptors energized the Southeast Division champions, because Orlando (56-19) looked like the elite team in the East with Friday's 116-87 dismantling of conference-leading Cleveland.
"We did not have a guy who didn't play well tonight, not a guy," said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, whose team avoided its first back-to-back losses since Jan. 22-24.
Dwight Howard recorded his 58th double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds as Orlando pulled within 4 1/2 games of the Cavaliers.
"We had a great meeting," Howard said. "We thought it was going to be like a five-minute meeting, but it ended up being like 20 minutes. Everybody said what they needed to say, it was just something that we needed."
Howard, an Atlanta native, is averaging 16.9 points and 12.7 rebounds in nine career games in his hometown.
A victory on Saturday would not only move the Magic within one-half game of idle Boston for the second seed, it would match the franchise's second-most wins in a season. The Magic went 57-25 in 1994-95, when they were swept by Houston in the NBA Finals.
While Atlanta has to find a way to neutralize Howard in the paint, the Hawks will have to find an answer for Rashard Lewis, who is averaging 20.2 points and hitting 56.8 percent (21-of-37) from 3-point range in his last five games.
The veteran forward hit two 3s and scored 20 points in Orlando's last visit to Atlanta, a 106-102 victory on Jan. 7.
The Magic go for their fourth straight win on the road and third in a row in Atlanta, but the Hawks have been an impressive home team this season, despite its recent struggles on the road.
Atlanta (43-33), which is 29-9 at Philips Arena, could reach 30 wins at home for the first time since 1996-97, when it went 36-5 in its final season at The Omni.
The Hawks, though, dropped their fifth straight road game with Friday's 104-92 loss to Boston.
"We don't play the same way we do at home," said Josh Smith, who recorded his 18th double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds. "We get away from the things we do at home and don't do it on the road."
Atlanta has lost five of seven following a seven-game winning streak from March 7-19 and are just three games ahead of Philadelphia and Miami for the fourth seed and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
The Hawks will look to avoid another slow start against the Magic. In the Jan. 7 loss, Atlanta trailed by 21 before a fourth-quarter rally trimmed Orlando's lead to single digits.
The Magic's 121-87 win over visiting Atlanta on Jan. 9 was Orlando's largest margin of victory over its division rival since a 129-94 rout on Dec. 7, 2001.