Twelve games remain for the Orlando Magic to make their push for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. While Orlando may not be a threat to beat the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round, a spot in the playoffs would mean a lot for a franchise that has not played a postseason game since 2012. Orlando looked to be a team in another rebuild following questionable decisions by the previous General Manager, Rob Hennigan, who was oddly enough hired after their 2012 playoff appearance. Nonetheless, a spot in the playoffs would enable its roster of young talent to learn a great deal, which could help them sustain more consistent postseason runs in the future.
The Magic’s remaining schedule is not exactly bereft of quality opposition. Head Coach, Steve Clifford, will need to make sure his players are properly prepared for the task ahead. Orlando will have to play the likes of Memphis, Philadelphia, Indiana, Toronto, and Boston. They will also have an opportunity to get the better of the Miami Heat, whom is their main competitor for the final playoff spot.
Orlando has leaned heavily on the production of Nicola Vucevic, D.J. Augustin, and Aaron Gordon to keep them afloat. Vucevic has been averaging a double-double this season with 20.6 points and 12 rebounds. His 52.2% field goal percentage will be missed next season when Vucevic mostly likely departs in free agency. Mo Bamba will take over in his absence. Unfortunately, Bamba has been recovering from a stress fracture in his left tibia since early February.
A positive statistic to keep in mind for the Magic is that they were able to beat both Toronto and Indiana away from home just a few weeks ago. They also managed to pull off a surprise win over the Golden State Warriors on February 28 at home. It should provide that extra bit of confidence when Orlando has both Indiana and Toronto back to back away from the Amway Center.
The four game road trip that begins on March 26th and ends after April 1st will be the critical juncture that determines if Orlando can get into the playoffs. They will be tasked with being away to Miami and Detroit as well as the back to back game against the Pacers and Raptors. If Orlando can muster at least two wins out of four, then they will look in a good position when they enter their last four games, of which three are against sub .500 teams. One of those four teams is Charlotte who is also in the hunt for the eighth seed, and will undoubtedly put up a strong fight.
The Magic fans will be hoping to make a return to the playoffs this year. The team has had to endure a difficult seven years since making the playoffs. The franchise has traded away Dwight Howard, Tobias Harris, and Victor Oladipo. A playoff appearance, even if it is brief in duration, would represent a major signal toward the direction that the franchise is going and where their focus will be when free agency hits this summer.When you take into account the difficult schedule that Miami must overcome, which includes games against the Thunder and Spurs in the coming week, then Orlando should be able to find themselves just on the right side of the line come the end of the season.
*NBA Statistics are taken from NBA.com
*Photo Credit- Unsplash: Tommy Bebo