The Sunday game between the Atlanta Hawks and visiting Orlando Magic could come down to a survival of the fittest.
Both teams are competing in the second end of back-to-backs. Atlanta has been home for both games, while Orlando has been on the road for both. Stamina will be tested.
Orlando is playing its 11th back-to-back set and are 10-10, going 7-3 in the first game and 3-7 in the second. Atlanta is playing its seventh back-to-back and are 4-8, going 2-4 in the first game and 2-4 in the second.
Orlando is coming off an impressive 103-83 win over Eastern Conference-leading Milwaukee on Saturday. Atlanta expended a lot of effort in Saturday's 129-120 loss to Orlando, when the Hawks battled back from a 20-point deficit before falling short. The Hawks have lost two straight.
"We weren't tired," Atlanta coach Lloyd Pierce said afterward. "We scored 120 points. It's just more about our approach. I didn't think we were physical enough, we weren't together on defense.
"We just have to stay together. It's a 'we' mentality. It's about us staying together. Orlando played (Saturday), so it's no excuse for them and it's no excuse for us. It's about playing together and competing."
This is only the second meeting between the two Southeast Conference and regional rivals. Orlando won the first game 122-103 in Atlanta to snap a three-game losing streak behind a 29-point effort by both Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier. The Magic trailed by nine in the first quarter, but led by three at the half and took over in the third quarter to cruise to victory.
Orlando has won seven of the last 11 meetings with Atlanta, but lost 13 of the last 17 on the road.
Vucevic has put together a strong season. He's averaging 20.5 points and 12.0 rebounds and led or tied for the team lead in scoring 24 times. He's been in double figures 43 times and has 38 double-doubles and last week was selected to play in the NBA All-Star Game. He had 15 points and 17 rebounds against the Bucks.
"Vooch plays the right way every night," said Orlando guard D.J. Augustin. "(Whether) he's scoring for us, passing, rebounding, blocking shots or doing whatever it takes for us to win. He does it every signle night, no matter what. That's why he's an All-Star. A lot of guys can't do that every night."
Atlanta did not have a player named to the All-Star team, but second-year forward John Collins and rookie guard Trae Young were chosen to play in the Rising Stars Game.
Collins is averaging 19.4 points and 9.9 rebounds on 58.3 field-goal percentage, which would make him only the second second-year player to post those averages. The other was Shaquille O'Neal in 1993-94.
Young, the team's first-round pick, has twice been selected as the Rookie of the Month. Young averages 16.9 points and 7.5 assists and on Saturday broke the team's single-season assist record for rookies. Young had 11 assists against the Hornets, giving him 410, and supplanting Armond Hill, who had 403 assists in 81 games in 1976-77.
--Field Level Media