Cohen: Time to Start Scoreboard Watching

By Josh Cohen
March 21, 2012

ORLANDO -- This is the time of season when NBA League Pass is an essential component of your cable or Internet package.

You see, up until now, potential playoff seeds and matchups have been a blur. And as a result, it’s been virtually impossible to foresee whom the Magic or any other postseason-bound team could play in the First Round.

With about 20 games remaining for all teams in this compressed season, however, the playoff picture is starting to develop and it’s far more enticing to check out what some of Orlando’s adversaries and impending playoff opponents are up to.

It’s like the unforgettable scene from the film Baseketball (WATCH):

With the first three months of the NBA season out of the way, the playoff picture is now starting to emerge. So if the Magic beat the Suns and Cavaliers this week and win four of their following six games and the Sixers and Hawks lose five of their next eight games, there is an 82 percent chance Orlando will be the No. 3 seed. Unless the Heat can go on an atypical losing skid and the Pacers don’t get abnormally hot, then the Magic have a 65 percent chance of climbing up to the No. 2 seed. But if the Celtics find their rhythm and the Magic struggle the rest of the way, then the aforementioned predictions are irrelevant.

I hope you chuckled just a little bit from all this gibberish.

Yet, while all those statistics were fabricated for a laugh, I actually am the kind of person who spends time calculating all of the absurd mathematical equations when it comes to playoff seeding and potential matchups.

Based on what’s practical, I have summoned a guide that suggests what is in the best interest of the Magic come playoff time.

1) Maintain the No. 3 seed

I am very confident Orlando will ultimately be the No. 3 seed. With the Bulls and Heat battling for the No. 1 seed, the Magic are the team in best position to grab this spot. They are presently 1.5 games up on the Pacers, who based on strength of schedule probably will be Orlando’s biggest challenger for this seed.

Being no lower than a No. 3 seed is imperative. Only once in NBA history has a team seeded lower than three won the NBA championship (Houston in 1995). Last season, Dallas was a three seed and captured the title and the Magic were in the same spot in 2009 when they advanced to the NBA Finals.

2) Root for Sixers or Pacers for No. 6 seed

Unless there is a dramatic breakthrough or some sort of unanticipated collapse, the Magic’s First Round opponent will be the Hawks, Pacers, Sixers or Celtics. It would be almost a miracle if Orlando played anyone else.

While some could argue that of those four teams Atlanta is the least talented, we all know based on recent results, the Magic do not match up particularly well with the Hawks. And certainly after a humiliating 31-point loss and an unimaginable meltdown a few days later to Boston, the Magic would love to avoid the Celtics in the opening round.

As a result, a matchup with the Sixers or Pacers would likely give the Magic the most confidence. Orlando won three of the four meetings against Indiana this season and it has owned Philadelphia the last several years.

3) Root for the Heat to win as much as possible the rest of the regular season

I know. I know. You think I have lost my mind. But think about it. Forget what just transpired on Monday in a revolting defeat to the Bulls. Who would you rather the Magic play in the conference semifinals, Chicago or Miami?

Listen, the Heat are better than the Bulls. They proved it last season and there is absolutely no reason to suggest that things are different this year. In a seven-game series, Chicago will have problems. It is built to be a phenomenal regular season team because of its commitment to defense. But remember, in the playoffs, every team plays with utmost energy and hustle.

Therefore, assuming the Magic are the No. 3 seed, it would be idyllic if Miami caught up to Chicago and stole away the No. 1 seed. In effect, the Bulls would drop down to No. 2 and would square off with Orlando in the conference semis. Chicago has a three-game lead on Miami, which will be a tall order for the Heat to overcome.

4) Root for the Knicks to be the No. 7 seed

I believe in New York. They have just as much talent on that roster as any other team in the league. With Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire, Jeremy Lin, Tyson Chandler, Baron Davis, JR Smith, etc. etc., there is no reason they can’t upset a high seed in the playoffs.

If the Bulls are the No. 2 seed at season’s end and the Knicks are No. 7, I could foresee a huge surprise in the First Round of the playoffs. I think NY will overwhelm Chicago down the stretch of close games because they have far more scoring options.

So, if Orlando were to be the No. 3 seed and New York stunned Chicago in the First Round, the Magic would play the Knicks in the conference semis with home-court advantage.

5) Root for the Celtics to either keep winning or keep losing

If Boston gets hot, it will likely catch Philadelphia for the division crown. As a result, the C’s would be the No. 4 seed since a division winner can’t be lower. This is a good thing for the Magic considering they would be able to avoid Boston in the First Round.

On the other hand, if the Celtics start falling apart again, it’s possible they may be forced to face either Miami or Chicago in the First Round as a No. 7 or 8 seed.

But if the Celtics are just “decent” the rest of the way, it’s possible they could end up with the No. 6 seed. A seven-game war against Boston would be far greater obstacle compared to any of the other potential First Round opponents Orlando could face.

Ultimately, here is the supreme and certainly feasible final playoff picture that would appease and be most favorable to the Magic.

1 Miami Heat 2
2 Chicago Bulls 1
3 Orlando Magic 3
4 Boston Celtics 7
5 Indiana Pacers 5
6 Philadelphia 76ers 4
7 New York Knicks 8
8 Atlanta Hawks 6

Who do you want the Magic to play in the First Round of the playoffs?

Who do you want the Magic to play in the First Round of the playoffs?

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