Magic Making Strong Playoff Push

by Josh Cohen

MIAMI - It was the morning of Jan. 31, around 11 a.m., which is usually when the Magic wrap up their gameday shootarounds.

The Magic, 11 games under .500 at the time and 4 ½ games back of eighth place in the East, were coming off a loss to the Thunder – their fourth straight defeat – two days earlier.

Jonathan Isaac was the special guest on the Magic’s Gameday Report, which you can find on the Magic’s social media channels and right here on OrlandoMagic.com.

Despite his team’s record and position in the standings, the second-year forward was still optimistic. He felt strongly what head coach Steve Clifford was relaying to the team the prior few days was sinking in, and it was only a matter of time before things started clicking.

“He just broke it down to us,” Isaac said about Clifford’s message on the show that late January morning with host Mackenzie Thirkill. “He broke down our offensive game, he broke down our defensive game and just talked about how we have to be solid on both ends and have to bring the attention to detail and not just have a great offensive night or a great defensive night but really tie it together and be able to take games home.”

Several hours later, the Magic thumped the Indiana Pacers, who were 32-18 and sitting in fourth place in the East at that time.

Since that night, the Magic have, by and large, done exactly what Isaac referred to. With just a few exceptions over the last 24 games, Orlando has been crisp on offense and stout on defense, which is why with just several games remaining it is very much in the playoff mix.

Throughout this time, the Magic are 17-7 and have beaten some of the best teams in the NBA, including the back-to-back champion Warriors, the Bucks, the Raptors, the Sixers, and the Pacers (twice).

For the first time in franchise history, they swept a homestand of five games or more by defeating the Cavs, Hawks, Pelicans, Grizzlies and Sixers in that stretch.

After the win over Memphis, in which Orlando overcame a 17-point deficit, 14 to start the fourth, Clifford praised the fans at Amway Center, who were electric and helped create a playoff-like atmosphere.

The most significant win to date came in South Florida – one night after crushing Philadelphia – where the Magic jumped past the Heat in the standings and solidified the tiebreaker between the Sunshine State rivals should the two teams finish the season with the same record. Orlando overcame a 17-point first-half deficit in that contest behind stifling defense, hot third-quarter shooting from Isaac, who finished with 19 points, and balanced scoring down the stretch.

“We just stuck with it,” said Nikola Vucevic, who posted 24 points, 16 rebounds and five assists. “Obviously, we knew it was going to be a long game. We knew they were going to come out very aggressive. For us, it was the second night of a back-to-back so a lot of times you kind of start off a little sluggish and it takes a little bit of time. That’s also risky in these games because (the opponent) can build a big lead, which they did but we cut it in half. Then, we were able to regroup in the second half and win the game.’’

So now, with seven games remaining on the Magic’s schedule and with five teams competing for the final three postseason spots in the East, Orlando has a golden opportunity to end its six-year playoff drought.

“We’re just trying to make this push,” Magic guard Terrence Ross said. “We still have a long way to go, still got seven games left, so we really need to lock in.”

What we know is that the Magic own the tiebreaker over the Heat, as mentioned earlier, because of head-to-head results. Orlando defeated Miami in three of the four meetings.

Brooklyn has the tiebreaker over Orlando after winning two out of three in that series. However, the Magic could still have a higher seed than the Nets should they finish with the same record. That would occur if Brooklyn and Orlando have the same record as a third or even fourth team and the Magic are division winners, which takes precedence when more than two teams finish tied.

The Magic play the Pistons on Thursday. A win by Detroit and it will have the tiebreaker, barring more than two clubs having the same record (as explained above). However, if Orlando prevails, the Magic could hold the tiebreaker advantage if they either win their division or log a better conference record.

The Magic also play the Hornets again, which will take place on the final day of the regular season in Charlotte. The Hornets won two of the first three meetings and are likely to win the tiebreaker over the Magic considering they currently have the better division record.

As far as potential First Round playoff matchups go if the Magic do indeed qualify, Orlando is 1-2 against Milwaukee, 2-2 against Philadelphia, 2-1 against Toronto (they play again in a few nights), 2-1 against Indiana (they also play again shortly) and 2-0 against Boston (they meet again in the next to last game of the season at TD Garden). Overall, the Magic are currently 9-6 against those teams combined.

With so much energy and excitement circulating around the city and in the Amway Center, there is a belief that this team has what it takes to play past April 10 when the regular season concludes.

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