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Magic Know They Can't Let Off the Gas Even With Relatively Easier Schedule Rest of Way

Josh Cohen
Digital News Manager

ORLANDO – One of the primary reasons that many of the projection models have the Orlando Magic rallying to make the playoffs – other than the fact that the team has been playing exceptionally well of late, of course – is the ease with which their schedule will play out over the remaining 23 games.

The rest of the way, the Magic have what is calculated to be the second-easiest schedule remaining with their 23 opponents have a combined .460 winning percentage. Thanks in part to the Magic having already completed both of their swings to the West Coast, Orlando will 18 of the 23 games against the much-weaker Eastern Conference and only eight of those foes currently have a winning record. The analytical prediction site, FiveThirtyEight.com projects that Orlando will finish 38-44 and grab the No. 8 seed. It gives the Magic a 62 percent chance of making the playoffs – much higher than that of the Charlotte Hornets (45 percent) and the Miami Heat (32 percent). Also, BasketballReference.com gives the Magic the seventh-best odds (59.6 percent) of making the postseason.

However, any notion that the Magic (27-32) can let off the gas and breeze into the playoffs without a challenge is an absolute fallacy, veteran guard Evan Fournier stressed. Starting with tonight’s home game against the rebuilding Chicago Bulls (14-44), Fournier said his Magic can’t afford to discount any foe based on the quality of their record. After all, just two weeks ago Orlando sat 10 games below .500 before rallying back into playoff contention.

``I mean, we have a losing record, so how could we possibly think teams having losing records not being good?’’ Fournier asked bluntly. ``There are plenty of dynamics in the NBA with injuries, guys fighting for playoffs, guys playing for their contract and whatever. So, right now, we have a losing record, but I feel like we’re playing better. But we can’t look at (records) because we’re playing NBA teams and NBA players and they can kick your ass. So, don’t look at the schedule at all.’’

Orlando will be looking to extend the five-game winning streak that it established prior to the break for the NBA All-Star Game. The Magic haven’t won six games in a row since the 2010-11 season when it ran off nine straight victories from Dec. 23, 2010 to Jan. 8, 2011. The Magic beat Minnesota, Milwaukee, Atlanta, New Orleans and Charlotte before taking several days off to rest and recharge for the final run of the season. The Magic got back to practice on Wednesday and Thursday and are hopeful that they can recapture the momentum established before the break and carry it over to tonight’s game against the new-look Bulls.

``The break did everybody some good to go away, take some time off and recover and then come back ready to go and I really think guys have that mindset now that it’s time to go to work,’’ said center Nikola Vucevic, who had four points, five rebounds and two assists in his first NBA All-Star Game. ``We know that first game can be a little tricky, but it’s on us to be focused and come ready from the beginning.’’

Orlando has beaten Chicago in two of the three meetings thus far. The Bulls, who traded for small forward Otto Porter two weeks ago, have the third-worst record in the East and they limped into the break for the All-Star Game having dropped seven of 10 games. Still, that certainly doesn’t mean the Magic can overlook the Bulls just because of their poor record.

Magic coach Steve Clifford, who is in his 19th season in the NBA, chuckles at the notion that a team has an ``easy’’ schedule in a league filled with so much parity.

``Somebody tried to say to me the other day, `Well, we have an easy schedule,’ and if you understand this league, there’s no easy schedule; there’s a less difficult schedule, maybe but to win a game in this league it’s hard,’’ Clifford said. ``So (easy schedule talk) is unknowing, naïve conversations right there.’’

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