Comparing the Orlando Magic’s previous strong starts

The Orlando Magic's Elfrid Payton, left, celebrates with teammate Aaron Gordon (00) during a 112-99 win against the New York Knicks at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic's Elfrid Payton, left, celebrates with teammate Aaron Gordon (00) during a 112-99 win against the New York Knicks at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic are off to an incredibly hot start this season. They have been here before. And a hot start is promising, but no guarantee of success.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote how the Orlando Magic were desperate for a good start.

The Magic delivered.

Through 14 games, the Magic are 8-6. Through eight games, they were 6-2. Entering Monday’s game, they sat tied for third place in the Eastern Conference and in the lead in the Southeast Division.

Try that again. Orlando Magic. Third. Orlando Magic. Third. Orlando Magic . . .

Considering this is a team constructed essentially the same as last year’s bottom dwellers, the change in pace, bench play and style has been an incredibly popular difference. Fans and players have been rightly reveling in the team’s newfound aggression, athleticism and desire to win.

Those who have been following the Magic for the past couple of seasons did not see much desire (or athleticism and aggression, either). They certainly did not get to see many good starts.

In fact, it is a rather long walk down memory lane to find a Magic team who started off a season with such jubilation.

Did those previous seasons fizzle out into normality or lead to success? Are there comparisons in how those teams played in relation to the current squad. And, most importantly, can it give any clues as to what might happen to the Magic this year?

To find a start as hot as this year’s start requires traveling back five long years to the 2012 season. That was the lockout year and the final incarnation of the Dwight Howard/Stan Van Gundy Magic that was so nearly successful.

Orlando is in its best start since Howard left, in other words.

Some remnants of the Finals team were still clinging on. Howard, of course. But the team had Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu, in his second stint with the team. But that is essentially it.

Ryan Anderson replaced the stretch-4 shooting of Rashard Lewis. A slightly too-old Jason Richardson had just entered the fray, while J.J. Redick and Glen Davis jumped off the bench as their careers passed each other in opposite trajectories.

The 2012 Magic actually started 11-4 before the “Dwightmare” really began to take hold. Howard had asked for a trade before the season, but none came . . . and time went on. Orlando was still a good team with an elite player. But faced plenty of distractions.

The team had highs and lows, but it still earned a lot of wins . . . until crunch time after Howard was lost for the season with a back injury.

The Magic lost 13 of their last 20 games without Howard. They suffered a gentlemen’s sweep by the up-and-coming Indiana Pacers. Howard’s Magic career finally ended in the summer after what seemed like decades of bad news stories.

The year before, the Magic won nine of their first 12, and actually managed to keep the trend up, winning 52 games. Although this team also lost in the first round. The rest of the ‘adult Dwight’ era follows the same blueprint. From 2008-11, the Magic won at least nine of their first 12 games.

Who knew? Good teams win early on.

The talent and system of those Magic teams were the envy of more than a few fan bases at the time. So it is really no surprise these teams played well.

Those teams, playing for a championship as they were and not merely emerging as a Playoff team, is not comparable to the current squad. Not in any fair way. But it does provide something for the Magic’s young guns to aim for.

There were a few similar teams in Magic history that used hot starts to propel their season.

The 2003 squad was 6-5 after 11 games. It is perhaps the most comparable team to the present day.

That team finished 42-40, snuck into the playoffs only to famously squander a 3-1 lead against the Detroit Pistons. The makeup of that team was very different to now. That team was built around Tracy McGrady. And, as encouraging as Aaron Gordon‘s improvement is, he is no Tracy McGrady.

The teams Anferenee Hardaway and Shaquille O’Neal led in the mid-90s were elite like the Dwight Howard-era teams. They got off to some stupendous starts. They were in another world compared to the Magic, often starting scorching.

The Magic went 9-2 to start the year in 1996, 13-2 in 1995 and 8-3 in 1993. Only the 1993 team failed to make the Playoffs, finishing 41-41, missing the postseason in O’Neal’s rookie year by a tiebreaker.

The only slow start came in 1994 when the Magic started 6-5. They ended up in the Playoffs for the first time in franchise history that season.

Obviously, 1995 and 1996 were two of the team’s most successful years, so that is unsurprising.

More from History

The 6-5 start in 1994 is only a game removed from the current Magic. It perhaps represents their most likely outcome too. That 1994 squad finished 50-32, good for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. It helped, of course, to have O’Neal and Hardaway leading the way.

That team was the first real application of the talent that was Shaquille O’Neal, Anfernee Hardaway, Dennis Scott, Nick Anderson, Scott Skiles and Jeff Turner. They had (mostly) played together before, but had not been able to figure their stuff out yet.

Sound familiar?

This team is constructed differently. Elfrid Payton is not Anfernee Hardaway. No one on earth is O’Neal, other than O’Neal. But the similarities are there, and the result looks like one that could be shared.

Maintaining the second seed is likely too tall an order for the Magic. Most expect Orlando to cool off at some point. But the longer they cling to success, the easier it is to imagine them maybe capturing the fourth or fifth seed. And finally making the playoffs.

Playoff experience on this team is next to non-existent, with Jonathon Simmons and Terrence Ross probably being the best bets at meaningful Playoff experience in the rotation.

But that is fine. Considering the last few years, Magic fans will cheer their heads off whatever the result, as long as they got to sniff the postseason again.

And it is a natural stepping stone. Just make the Playoffs. The team can grow from there.

Next: Orlando Magic in most difficult stretch of season

But that is the future. For now, Magic fans should be focusing on and celebrating what Orlando has managed to do and what fun it has been to watch. And hopefully, they will see it continue.