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Magic At Hawks: Dwight Howard Returns Home To Take On Hawks

Don't say that the Atlanta Hawks aren't taking this one seriously.

Joe Johnson looks to return from his sore right thumb injury when the Hawks take on the Orlando Magic in what's likely to be a preview of the first round of the playoffs on Wednesday night at Philips Arena (7:00 p.m, SportSouth, 97.9 FM).

The Magic also hope to have Jameer Nelson back from a knee injury for this one. If Nelson plays, it will be the first time all season that the two clubs have all of their marquee players in the lineup at the same time.

As things stand right now, the Hawks would secure the fifth seed in the East, while the Magic would hold onto the No. 4 spot. That means, when the curtain drops on the postseason, Atlanta would find itself in Orlando. The Hawks know that it's important to wrap up the season series with a win.

Orlando won the first game of the series, but Atlanta struck back, winning the next two games. With a victory, the Hawks would best the Magic in a season set for the first time since the 2006-07 season. That's something that Johnson knows is not just merely bragging rights.

"I think we understand the significance of this game and the psychology of it, as far as this is more than likely be our first-round opponent," Johnson told the AJC's Michael Cunningham on Tuesday. "This is definitely a statement game, a game that we really need to come out and take seriously. We can go up 3-1 and have the mental edge on them as well. It's definitely important."

Atlanta is coming off of a pair of wins against the New Jersey Nets and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Hawks haven't had problems with those type of teams that are not even remotely playoff bound. It's the good teams that have given Atlanta's basketball team fits -- especially on their home floor.

Marvin Williams stepped up in Johnson's absence, posting a season-best 31 points in Atlanta's 99-83 win over Cleveland on Sunday. Al Horford added 20 points and 10 rebounds and Josh Smith flirted with a triple double, finishing with 13 points, 18 boards and eight assists.

Most impressively, Atlanta had 29 assists on 37 field goals.

The Hawks must go back to that ABC-style outside-in basketball if they are going to stand a chance against the Magic. But that won't be an easy task with former Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy standout Dwight Howard patrolling the middle.

Howard's Magic are coming off of a disappointing 113-106 overtime loss to the new Best Team Ever* -- the New York Knicks -- on Monday at the Garden with no flowers in Manhattan. New York predictably overachieved against a good Orlando team. But by the end of that one, Howard, Hedo Turkoglu and Earl Clark were sitting on the bench after fouling out.

Howard had 29 points and 18 boards in that one, which Carmelo Anthony called a "must-win" game for the Knickerbockers.

Photographs by coka_koehler used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.