The Orlando Magic’s recent struggles against lowly teams make the challenge of the next four games daunting. Orlando is entering the toughest stretch it has left.
The Orlando Magic find themselves in a peculiar position.
They are playing for something sitting a game out of the final Playoff spot at the three-quarter mark of the season. For the franchise that has been six years out of the Playoffs, that enticement is a very real and tangible goal to achieve.
A lot of time has passed. And in recent years the Magic have not even come close to sniffing the Playoffs. It would be something if they were a couple of games from contention.
Last year the Orlando Magic finished with a 25-57 record and were 18 games back of the eighth-seeded Washington Wizards. A lot has changed. There is undoubted excitement around the entire organization — and fan base — about the Playoff possibilities.
The Magic are currently the ninth seed in the Eastern Conference. They are battling the Charlotte Hornets for that final Playoff spot. With the race so tight, they cannot afford to lose to teams that are not in Playoff contention. They have to beat the teams that they are supposed to beat.
That has added to the frustration since the All-Star Break. A schedule that seems set up for them to succeed on paper — and has statistical models like the one from FiveThirtyEight listing the Magic as favorites to make the Playoffs — is quickly revealing itself to be much trickier.
The Magic are close to breaking the Playoff curse put on them since Dwight Howard left six years ago. But they are quickly learning every game is going to be a challenge and Playoff pressure and expectations are very real.
Fortunately, the Eastern Conference is extremely forgiving. Orlando sits one game behind Charlotte for the final Playoff spot.
And the Hornets face a daunting schedule — the third toughest remaining in the league according to Tankathon. And after losing to the Golden State Warriors on Monday, the Charlotte Hornets next play the Houston Rockets, Brooklyn Nets and Portland Trail Blazers.
Everything seems set up for the Magic to get above the red line and control their own destiny. They missed that opportunity Tuesday against the Knicks. And that makes their challenge tougher.
They will need to have a renewed spirit about themselves to accomplish this goal. The Magic probably have the toughest four-game schedule in the NBA coming up next.
First, the Magic (28-34) host the two-time NBA Champion Warriors on Thursday.
Several reports suggest the Golden State Warriors plan to rest several key players for one of their back-to-back games with the Miami Heat on Wednesday and the Orlando Magic on Thursday.
The Magic traveled to Oakland, Calif., back in November and nearly beat the defending champs on their home court. The Magic were up 64-47 at halftime but allowed Kevin Durant to score 49 points in 40 minutes in the 116-110 loss. Klay Thompson added 29 for good measure as Golden State won without Stephen Curry.
The Orlando Magic then begin another road trip that will see them start against the Victor Oladipo-less Indiana Pacers. Despite Oladipo’s injury, the Indiana Pacers remain a strong team, staying ahead of the Boston Celtics and the other Eastern Conference favorites.
The Pacers (40-21) only have five losses after that injury took Oladipo for the entire year. Indiana lost four in a row and one of those losses was to Orlando on Jan. 31. Since that loss against the Magic, the Pacers have won eight of their last 10 games. And they will be looking for revenge.
The third game is a must-win game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have plummeted to 14-47 on the year. This seems to be an easy win for a team fighting to make the Playoffs. If the Magic overlook this team they will lose. Orlando has already lost to New York and Chicago since the All-Star Break. So there is no team the Magic should overlook.
In the only previous meeting between the two teams so far this year, Orlando needed to erase a five-point deficit in the final five minutes to win. Thanks to an Evan Fournier buzzer beater, the Magic escaped with the home victory.
And final game is against the Philadelphia 76ers (39-22), a team who arguably has the best starting five in the Eastern Conference and a team who has one of the worst benches in the NBA.
The 76ers are 1-1 against the Magic this year. But Orlando did win the last time they saw each other on the hardwood. Then again, that was also Jimmy Butler‘s first game in a Sixers uniform. He has gotten more comfortable on his new team since then. And the Magic have yet to face them since acquiring Tobias Harris.
This is a difficult schedule ahead. The Magic failed to take advantage of seemingly must-win games since the All-Star Break and will find themselves under fire in this stretch.
No one’s schedule is easy at this point. But the Magic have to find a way to keep pace and find a way to make up ground. Taking care of their own business in the next week is going to be exceedingly tough.
But a Playoff team should be up for the challenge.