Door is open for Orlando Magic to pass the Brooklyn Nets for seventh

Kyrie Irving's injury has opened the door for the Orlando Magic to pass the Brooklyn Nets. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
Kyrie Irving's injury has opened the door for the Orlando Magic to pass the Brooklyn Nets. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic and Brooklyn Nets are in a tight battle for seventh in the Eastern Conference. Kyrie Irvin’s injury and a favorable schedule for the Magic should put Orlando over the top. 

The Orlando Magic have wanted this for a long time. Through an interminable rebuild, feeling the pressure of a playoff chase and playing meaningful games has been a little thing the team has learned to treasure in the last two years.

The Magic chased down the 7-seed in the Eastern Conference last year, finishing on a 22-9 kick to get to 42-40. Every game down the stretch had an intensity and pressure to it that was unmatched. Every game felt important and one little thing going right or wrong could have very well determined the Magic’s playoff fate.

Orlando had perfect health down the stretch, adding Michael Carter-Williams to boost the roster after an injury hit Isaiah Briscoe. Meanwhile, the Detroit Pistons faded down the stretch thanks to an injury to Blake Griffin that kept him in and out of the lineup.

Magic fans watched the standings with bated breath every night to see where they stood. Each win seemed to climb them higher and each loss kept everyone biting their nails.

This is the time of the year NBA fans love.

A time where games really matter in relation to seeding for the Playoffs and a time where every little move, injury and step can change the season’s outcome.

Entering Friday’s games, the Orlando Magic sit behind the Brooklyn Nets in the Eastern Conference standings in the eighth and final spot for a Playoff berth. They have been desperately attempting to climb up to the seventh seed.

A two-game win streak — and wins in four of their past five games — have pulled the Magic to within a half-game back of the final spot. Monday’s 115-113 come-from-behind win in Brooklyn was critical not only to narrowing this gap but also guaranteeing the Magic would get at least a split of the regular-season series.

Either way, the two teams seem set to go down to the wire for this playoff spot.

The Magic are streaking right now on a win streak to solidify their playoff positioning. They play the fifth-easiest remaining schedule. Orlando figures it can bank up some wins as the team regains rhythm and momentum.

In contrast, the Nets have lost two straight and are in need of answers as they watch Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving sit on the bench. It does not look as if it will get better anytime soon.

While the Nets have survived without Irving in the lineup for much of the season, it appears this will be the final blow. The door is open for the Magic to run through and claim the seventh seed.

Irving undoubtedly is still a star player, averaging 27.4 points and 6.4 assists per game this year on a 54.6-percent effective field goal percentage. While there were still plenty of questions about how he integrates and involves his teammates. But when it comes to winning time and the playoffs, Irving is still one of the best playmakers in the league.

However, Irving has only appeared in 20 of the Nets’ 57 games thus far. They have had to find a way without him. And now there is seemingly little chance he will be back in the lineup

Irving suffered a right knee sprain and was ruled out for the ending of the Brooklyn Nets’ loss to the Washington Wizards on Feb. 1. That should still prove to be a big loss.

The Nets have played plenty without Irving this year and they continue to be a potent team.

In the nine games since Irving left the lineup, Brooklyn has the third-best defense in the league, giving up 103.5 points per 100 possessions. But there are some troubling signs, many of which the Magic exposed in that comeback win Monday.

Brooklyn’s offense is still potent, scoring 113.0 points per 100 possessions in the last nine games. However, the Nets are shooting just a 51.4-percent effective field goal percentage since Irving’s injury. That mark is worse than the Magic in the last nine games.

That poor and sometimes inefficient shooting is how Brooklyn gave up such a large lead to Orlando. The Magic were able to find gaps in the defense eventually and break it down. It all does not bode well for the Nets who are seemingly having to reinvent themselves again.

Brooklyn has found a way all year. But with the Nets’ schedule toughening up, this might be too much. The Brooklyn Nets play the 10th-toughest remaining schedule which includes games against the Los Angeles Lakers, LA Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks (twice) and Boston Celtics (twice).

While the Magic are gaining confidence, the Nets are entering a part of their schedule where they could lose some ground. The Brooklyn Nets will play the Miami Heat and Boston Celtics before heading out on a four-game West Coast trip that includes the Los Angeles double on March 10.

This is Orlando’s time to strike.

The seventh seed is very important for a team like the Magic. For one, it ensures a lesser opponent the Magic would have to face at the beginning of the Playoffs. Secondly, they will avoid the best team in the NBA in the Bucks (50-8) in the opening round. Orlando wants to say at least they have matched last year’s seeding.

The team certainly would like to get a game and play a more competitive series. And that would be a struggle against a high-powered team like the Bucks. Playing the Toronto Raptors or Boston Celtics would still be a tough series, but nowhere near the difficulty as playing the Milwaukee Bucks.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

Brooklyn looks to be on the downside at the wrong time of the year. While the Nets have survived for a long time with Irving in and out of the lineup, losing him for the rest of the season could be the final blow, opening the door for the Magic to pass them.

Irving not only brought his scoring to the table, but he also brought a certain level of confidence when playing against teams worse than .500. Now they lose that confidence and that scoring ability in a sprint to the seventh seed of the Playoffs.

We will learn a lot about Brooklyn in their next few games. The Brooklyn Nets will play against the Atlanta Hawks (17-43) the Miami Heat (36-22) and the Boston Celtics (41-17). If they lose two of their next three games and the Magic continue their winning streak, Orlando will have control of that seventh seed.

That opportunity is still present. The Magic go on their last big road trip (a four-game trip) starting next Wednesday. They play just two teams with winning records in their next 13 games.

The Orlando Magic’s next three games are against the Minnesota Timberwolves (17-40), San Antonio Spurs (24-33) and the Portland Trail Blazers (26-34). These are winnable games for a team that wants to keep their late-season winning streak alive.

All three of the next opponents for the Magic are on the outside looking into the Playoffs, while the last two opponents the Irving-less Nets will play are against budding Playoff teams in the Eastern Conference.

And, more importantly, the Magic will play the Nets two more times this year. Both games will be huge in determining the playoff order.

This should be a very interesting last 23 games.

dark. Next. Orlando Magic picking up pace for playoff chase

All the Magic have to do is continue to play winning basketball and they will push their ticket to the seventh seed and set themselves up for their return to the postseason.