The Pick: Hawks 103-92
I like what the Magic are doing as far as roster construction goes in the long term, but you know what’s not in the long term? Tonight’s game against a rested Hawks team. Orlando has a legitimate big man in Nikola Vucevic (17.2 ppg, 13.2 rpg, an impressive 3:1 assist to turnover ratio, and a team high 22.9 PER), who has served as a steady performer as the Magic wait on youngsters (players 24 years of age or younger account for roughly 46 percent of the minutes) to develop. The issue here is that the Hawks have not one, but two big men that are willing to crash the glass with Vucevic (Al Horford and Paul Milsap combine to average 39.2 points and 18.8 rebounds), giving the Hawks the edge in the painted area. Orlando ranks in the top half of the league in offensive rebounds per game, but with the Hawks as a top five unit when it comes to preventing opponents to get their own rebounds, easy buckets figure to be hard to come by tonight.
On the offensive end, I love the ability of Kyle Korver (who is off to his most efficient scoring start of his 11 year career) to knock down the long ball with consistency, thus giving the Hawks’ dynamic interior duo room to operate. I also prefer the playmaking ability of Jeff Teague to that of Jameer Nelson, an advantage that should allow the Hawks to crack triple digits for the sixth straight game.
The schedule is the final part of the equation and potentially the biggest factor in this pick. The Hawks will be returning home after a three game, six day road trip, and figure to have plenty of energy in front of the home crowd after not playing last night. The Magic, on the other hand, will be playing their first road game of the month and are coming off of a hard fought loss against the Boston Celtics last night — a game in which Victor Oladipo recorded more turnovers than assists for the third straight game.
The Magic are 1-3 in games, in which Vucevic commits at least three fouls (2-0 when he doesn’t), and I expect that trend to continue as the Hawks pound the ball early and often. Also, the Hawks have alternated win/loss through five games this season (they lost their last game), and considering I pegged them as a 42 win team, that’s about the pace I was expecting. I’m looking for a pair of double doubles from Horford and Milsap and a big time triple down the stretch from Korver as the Hawks ice this game in the fourth.