The Magic entered this week's five-game homestand knowing it was an opportunity to set their record straight. The next three weeks really will probably set the Magic toward whatever type of season they will have — a battle for ping pong balls and some measure of respect at the bottom or a potential surprise Playoff fight.
With Detroit, Cleveland, Boston, San Antonio and Brooklyn coming to town before an always-difficult December West Coast trip, several players noted how important these next five games are.
So far, so good with Orlando scoring wins over Detroit and Cleveland to start things off.
"It was important, especially in the five-game home stretch," Glen Davis said of scoring the win over the Cavaliers on Friday. "We need to get all these games as possible and try to get back to .500 to compete for a chance to be somewhere in the postseason. And also for our confidence and our young guys to make sure that they learn and understand what we have to do to take the team."
The Magic suffered a setback Sunday against the Celtics in a hard-fought overtime battle. The team took the loss extremely hard afterward. There was no talk of moral victories against a team expected to make a Finals push. There was only talk of the opportunity missed.
Orlando still squarely has a goal of making the Playoffs. That goal is still something very real to the players in Orlando's locker room. Guys like Jameer Nelson and Glen Davis are not used to going home early at the end of the season.
Davis especially has been talking Playoffs since the beginning of the season. It might seem ridiculous to those outside the locker room or making predictions about this team and this roster, but until the Playoffs are out of sight, this team plans to keep on fighting.
"It’s time to get right," Glen Davis said after Wednesday's win over Detroit. "Opponents are coming to our home and we can’t sit back and just watch. We’ve got to get these wins so that we can compete in the Eastern Conference."
For the record, Orlando is 2.5 games behind eighth-seeded Boston for the final spot in the Playoffs. That is some small sample size theater to ponder on.
There is no doubt though that the next three weeks that number could fluctuate wildly with the matchups Orlando has coming up.
The homestand wraps up with two games against the Spurs and the Nets, two teams that will be in the postseason and will prove to be difficult matchups for the Magic. After that though, Orlando heads out West. Dates with the Lakers, Kings, Warriors, Jazz and Suns await. A successful West Coast trip will set up the rest of the season. A bad one will too.
How far back that would set Orlando back as far as wins and losses and record is something no one will know until Orlando comes home on Dec. 12.
That adds to the importance of this five-game homestand and finishing the next two games strong before heading off on that West Coast trip.
"I think the team rhythm right now will be really important before we head on out on that West Coast trip," Arron Afflalo said following Wednesday's win. "Not looking too far ahead, we’ve got some quality opponents coming here the next four games. We’ll be locked in. Defense will continue to be the key."
The Magic have played some of their best basketball of the season in these past three games and defense at key moments has been big in that. Orlando did a good job even holding down the Boston offense in the third quarter to take control of the game and erase a 10-point deficit. The Magic even came up with big stops late in the fourth quarter despite their struggles on the offensive glass.
The Magic will ahve to continue to improve their offensive and defensive efficiency to end the homestand with a winning record. That is quite clearly very important for this Magic team to accomplish its goals and set this season on the right path.
Orlando knows the task gets much harder as Afflalo foreshadowed after Friday's win over Cleveland:
"These were two teams, we felt we should beat here at home," Afflalo said Friday night. "We have some more tougher, quality opponents in these next three games. We’ll have to amp it up and, of course, we can’t have the turnover problem or the offensive rebounding problem against these teams coming up or else we won’t be down by six at half, it will be a much larger deficit."
The Magic will have to focus in these next three weeks to accomplish their goals and get serious about accomplishing them.