The Orlando Magic defeated the team with the best record in the Western Conference and have gained the momentum they needed for the All-Star break.
Yes, the Magic are still worse than .500 and still are looking to creep up further in the Eastern Conference to receive a favorable seeding. It has been a rough start to the year for the team with injuries and expectations weighing on the team. Nobody hopes this group at 20-21 and scrounging in the bottom seeds.
After the win last night the Magic currently sit in the seventh seed, the same seed they were last year at the end of the 2019 season.
But we are now at the halfway point of the season, and the NBA should be on notice if this is the Magic team we will see from this point on.
This was not only the best victory of this season, it was the best regular-season victory since Dwight Howard originally left for Los Angeles. The Magic have not beat the team with the best record in the Western Conference in almost a decade.
In 2013, the Magic beat the Golden State Warriors at Oracle. But that year the Warriors finished the year with the second seed in the Western Conference. The Magic finished that year 20-62 and it was just before the Warriors went on to win five straight Western Conference championships.
Even through some of the Lakers’ recent franchise struggles, the Magic’s win Wednesday was the first time the Magic had won back-to-back road games against the Lakers since the 2008 and 2009 seasons.
If the Magic can somehow beat the LA Clippers tonight then they would have done something no team in the NBA has done this season — beat the two teams most pundits have winning it all. It definitely will not be an easy task considering it is a back to back game with injuries continuing to pile up.
These games are not played on paper though as the Magic proved Wednesday night.
The difference is this Magic team will enter tonight’s game full of confidence because of what they were able to accomplish the night before.
Another difference is the way first overall draft pick Markelle Fultz looked against the Lakers and their strong defense, ranked second in the league in defensive rating.
Markelle Fultz finished with his second career triple-double as he finished with 21 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. LeBron James finished with 19 points and 19 assists in a crushing defeat that stopped the Lakers from extending their winning streak to 10.
But more importantly, it was Fultz answering James late in the game as James tried desperately to bring the Lakers back. Fultz hit a tough runner over James for his final points, giving Orlando a three-point lead with about 15 seconds to play.
Aaron Gordon played well too, finishing the game with 21 points and six rebounds. Aaron Gordon had some of the best dunks of the season against the Lakers and looked confident throughout the game. Many of those plays came late. The Staples Center crowd was buzzing as Aaron Gordon flew over JaVale McGee, McGee offering a feeble two-handed push that did little to stop Gordon’s rising force.
That confidence cannot be measured when it comes to this 2020 Magic squad. If the Magic can somehow pull off this victory they will know that they can beat any team in the NBA if they play with intensity and passion all 48 minutes. No matter who is in or out of the lineup.
As a group, the Magic are playing significantly better. The team has won six of its past eight games (the most wins the team has had in January since Howard’s last season in 2012). In that time, the Magic rank fourth in the league in net rating (+9.6 points per 100 possessions) and first in defensive rating (100.6 points allowed per 100 possessions).
As coach Steve Clifford said following Wednesday’s game, in the last eight or nine games the team has started to get it. The numbers and results show that.
This is the confidence that the team lacked last year, as they lost to the top-seeded Western Conference team twice.
This is not new for Orlando. The Magic beat the Lakers on their home floor before last night.
In November 2018 the Magic beat the Lakers 108-104 in Staples Center. Unlike last night’s game, Evan Fournier was present for the matchup and Nikola Vucevic had one of his best games of the year as he scored 31 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists.
James missed a key dunk in the game in the fourth quarter that gave the team confidence that they could pull off the upset of the team with the best record in the West.
The Magic swept the Lakers for the first time since the 2009 season last year, defeating them twice early in the season while James was still playing. It was an impressive win and an early sign of what that team could do.
Last season the Lakers did not even make the Playoffs so the win was not as significant as last night’s victory. Wednesday’s win was a statement heard all around the NBA as Orlando beat James and company. The team has gained confidence from beating the team some have winning the title.
And that confidence can go a long way at this point in the season. Usually, teams start to go on winning streaks to gain confidence after the All-Star break.
The Magic’s schedule will lighten up on paper when the calendar turns to February. Winning like this on this road trip and in this month would have been a surprise at the start of the season, le alone a week ago.
But this Orlando team seems to be as confident as we remember during the last decade.
This added confidence comes at the right time as the Magic play championship-contending teams all month. The remaining schedule in January is pretty tough with the Orlando Magic having to play the LA Clippers twice in 10 days, and the Boston Celtics at home on Jan. 24.
If the Magic continue this streak and beat the top contending teams this month then they should feel like the sky is the limit for this season.