The Magic enters this season poised to make a move in a rugged Eastern Conference - but the Hawks got in the first punch.
Atlanta surged to an early lead and held off the Magic in the fourth quarter Wednesday for a 99-85 win in the season opener for both teams. Joe Johnson scored nine of his game-high 25 in the fourth, and the Hawks handed Orlando only its second loss in its last nine home openers. Atlanta won its first road opener since 1987.
Josh Smith, playing on a sprained ankle, chipped in 17 points and 10 rebounds for the Hawks. Dwight Howard scored 12 of his 22 in the final quarter and added 15 rebounds to lead Orlando.
Before the game, the Magic honored Howard for winning an Olympic gold medal in Beijing and feted players and coaches from the original Magic team of 1989-90.
"They did a lot of celebrating before the game started," said Hawks forward Maurice Evans, who played for Orlando last season. "We came out with the right focus and took care of business."
Orlando fared better on the road than at home last season in winning 52 games, and one of the Magic's priorities this season was doing a better job defending its homecourt.
Atlanta led by as many as 19 before Orlando got within seven points in the final minute, but Mike Bibby hit three free throws after a flagrant foul by Hedo Turkoglu to seal the victory.
"Atlanta played a lot harder," Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said. "They played like they really, really wanted to win it. We just showed up, I guess just thinking it would happen if we walked out there."
Said Atlanta coach Mike Woodson, "When you're on the road you have to come out and try to establish yourself and not get hit in the mouth."
Van Gundy took the blame for the Magic's offensive performance, parts of which he called "abysmal." Orlando shot only 37 percent from the field and committed 15 turnovers.
"I couldn't find one offensive thing we could run that would give us any good ball movement, any good shots," Van Gundy said. "I thought we were forcing plays."