The Atlanta Hawks completed a dominating series against one of the Eastern Conference's elite in their last game. In their two meetings with the Orlando Magic, however, the Hawks haven't looked much like one of the conference's best.
The top teams in the Southeast Division face off for the second time this month Saturday night when the Hawks try to snap a five-game losing streak against the Magic.
Atlanta (30-15) is looking to build on the momentum from its first season sweep of Boston in 11 years. The Hawks built a 14-point lead over the Celtics on Friday, then watched it almost disappear before holding on for a 100-91 victory to cap the 4-0 series.
Joe Johnson scored 16 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter and Jamal Crawford finished with 28.
"It means nothing, to be honest," said Johnson, who is averaging 26.0 points in the last three games. "It just means we swept them in the regular season; the postseason is a totally different game."
While the Hawks insist the victory doesn't mean much, they have won nine of their last 12 and are one-half game ahead of Orlando (30-16) for the best record in the division. What's most impressive about the stretch is that three of those wins have come against the Celtics, and Atlanta also posted victories over Houston and Phoenix.
"We can look anybody eye to eye," said Crawford, who is averaging 21.1 points in the last eight games. "We can stand up. I think we're going to get better. This shows our growth."
As competitive as they've been lately, the Hawks have not looked like one of the conference's top teams in their first two meetings with the Magic. Orlando cruised to a 93-76 win Nov. 26 and routed Atlanta 113-81 on Jan. 9.
The Hawks shot a combined 39.3 percent in those games, which extended their losing streak over the Magic to five games. Atlanta has topped 90 points only once during that skid.
While Atlanta has been dominating defensively recently, holding opponents to 94.8 points over the last 12 games, the Hawks have struggled to contain Dwight Howard. He had 12 points and seven rebounds in just 23 minutes earlier this month and averaged 20.5 points and 17.3 rebounds in the previous four wins.
Like Atlanta, Orlando is also coming off a victory over Boston after defeating the Celtics 96-94 at Amway Arena on Thursday. Rashard Lewis made the go-ahead layup with 1.3 seconds remaining, capping the Magic's comeback from a 16-point deficit.
Lewis finished with a team-high 23 points and eight rebounds while Howard had 19 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots. Orlando outrebounded Boston 47-32 and outscored them 35-22 in the fourth quarter.
"Defensively, I think we are killing them," 6-foot-11 center Marcin Gortat, who had six points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots, said about playing alongside the 6-foot-11 Howard. "There's no way they can stop us defensively with two big men like that."
The win was the Magic's fourth in the last five games and their first against a team with a winning record since beating Atlanta on Jan. 9. They had gone 0-4 against opponents above .500 since then.
"I know it's supposed to be a huge game, measuring stick, statement game, all the cliches. It's Game 46 in a regular season," coach Stan Van Gundy said. "But it is good for us in terms of our development to be in these kind of games."
Orlando has won four straight at home overall, and it's won its last two games there against Atlanta by an average of 33.0 points.