NBA Preview from The Sports Network
Wednesday, October 29th (All times eastern)
Atlanta Hawks (0-0) at Orlando Magic (0-0), 7:00 p.m.
(Sports Network) - With dreams of an NBA title in the background, the reigning Southeast Division champion Orlando Magic kick off their 2008-09 season by welcoming division-rival Atlanta to Amway Arena.
Orlando became one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference last season behind franchise center Dwight Howard and a solid supporting cast that features the silky smooth Rashard Lewis and sharp-shooting Hedo Turkoglu.
The Magic finished a gaudy 52-30 to win their first division crown since the strike-shortened 1998-99 season. Orlando then doused Toronto in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs before succumbing to Detroit in five games in the semifinals.
The 22-year-old Howard led the Magic in scoring (20.7 ppg) and rebounding (14.2 rpg), while point guard Jameer Nelson handed out a team-best 5.6 assists per game last season.
Lewis provided 18.2 points per game and Turkoglu, who was NBA's Most Improved Player, had the best season of his career with averages of 19.5 points, 5.7 boards and 5.0 assists. Turkoglu is questionable for the contest with a strained right groin.
The Magic expect continued improvement from the 22-year-old Howard, who earned first-team All-NBA honors last year after leading Orlando to its best season in 12 years and then added an Olympic gold medal this summer.
Orlando didn't make any bold offseason moves but did add talented free agent guard Mickael Pietrus from Golden State.
Meanwhile, the young and improving Hawks surprised virtually everyone by making the playoffs for the first time since the strike-shortened 1998-99 campaign last season.
Atlanta managed to fend off annual playoff contenders Indiana and New Jersey to finish with its best record in 10 years, before falling in seven games to the eventual world champion Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
With a muddled ownership situation always looming, embattled and underrated head coach Mike Woodson has been on a perpetual hot seat since taking over in Atlanta. The playoffs tempered that, however, and Woodson was rewarded with a two-year extension by new general manager Rick Sund.
The mentor has overseen the development of promising young stars Josh Smith and Al Horford and has developed a nice offensive system that suits the strengths of one of the game's most underrated players, Joe Johnson.
Smith, who is listed as probable for the game with a sprained right ankle, is on the verge of stardom and joined Hall of Fame Centers Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing and Kareem Abdul-Jabaar as the only players in NBA history to average at least 17 points, 8 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 2.5 blocks per game in a single season last year.
The Magic have split the last 10 regular season meetings with the Hawks but Orlando has won six of the last eight matchups at home.
10/29 10:38:02 ET