Magic in Favorable Spot Rest of Season
ORLANDO – If the season ended today, the Orlando Magic would be the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, which also would mean they would be in the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since they qualified in six straight seasons from 2007 to 2012.
They currently have a 3 ½ game lead for the final postseason spot on three teams who sit beneath them, which are the Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards. Orlando is also just two games back of the seventh slot, currently possessed by the Brooklyn Nets.
There’s more good news. Based on their future opponents’ current records, the Magic have the fourth easiest schedule in the league the rest of the season. In comparison, Detroit has the fourth hardest remaining schedule, Washington the eighth hardest, Chicago ninth and Brooklyn 11th.
Even more exciting, the Magic rank 16th in ESPN’s NBA Basketball Power Index (BPI), which often is the most accurate predictor of future performance. BPI accounts for game-by-game efficiency, strength of schedule, pace, days of rest, game location and preseason expectations.
Another positive note is that Orlando actually has a better record now than it did exactly one year ago. Last year at this point of the season they were 21-31. Currently, they are one game better at 22-30.
Although he’s not a huge name, the addition of James Ennis III should help fill a need. Injuries, unlike last year, have made it difficult for this team to develop on-the-court camaraderie. A guy like Khem Birch, moreover, has been playing out of position. Ennis, a 6-foot-6, 215-pounder, is versatile enough to play different positions, which will make it easier for others to play in their more natural spots.
The Magic continue to be one of the best defensive teams in the league. They currently rank in the top five in each of the following defensive categories: opponent points in the paint, opponent fast break points, opponent second chance points and opponent points off turnovers. If that holds up, they would be just the fourth team since 2010 to rank in the top five in all four of those areas in the same season. Opponents are also averaging a league-low 104.8 points per game against them.
The offense has obviously been this team’s main problem. If Nikola Vucevic, Terrence Ross and Aaron Gordon – three players who haven’t been as efficient this season compared to last year -- elevate their play and if D.J. Augustin, who is recuperating from a sore knee, reemerges as one of the league’s better reserves when he returns, Orlando should have enough firepower to finish the season strong.
Climbing to the No. 7 seed is a realistic goal. If that indeed happened, that would most likely suggest the Magic ended the regular season the way they know they can, which would give them confidence in a first round postseason series against whomever.
Saturday’s matchup against the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks, a potential first round opponent, is a great opportunity for Orlando to get back on the right track and fuel them even more the rest of the season.