Where we last left the Orlando Magic: Looking ahead to softer schedule

The Orlando Magic were playing well when the season went on hiatus and eyed a schedule that was going to benefit them. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic were playing well when the season went on hiatus and eyed a schedule that was going to benefit them. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic were streaking and playing well when we last saw them. They were looking ahead to a softer schedule they will no longer see.

The Orlando Magic had reason to be disappointed when the season went on hiatus on March 11.

They were leaving Memphis — on the plane that the Utah Jazz used previously — after a rousing road victory. They trailed by 16 points in the first half of the game and came back to take the game, holding off a late Memphis Grizzlies rally.

They had won three out of four games on this road trip — including a 126-point performance in a win over the Houston Rockets. The one loss was a three-point defeat at the Miami Heat with the Orlando Magic have a chance to win at the end.

The common refrain from team officials now that the season has a return date is they felt they were playing their best basketball when the league went on hiatus and they were eager to see whether the team could put together a similar finishing kick as last season. There seems at least a hint of confidence they would pass the Brooklyn Nets for seventh.

All that went on hold along with the season. They are now eager to see if they can put those pieces together again.

Now with the league announcing its return-to-play plan, things will have to pick up again quickly. The teams that will be headed to Disney will have to figure themselves out again after a brief training camp.

The top teams are still the top teams based on talent. But it feels like everyone is starting from square one. And the way this season will finish is nearly impossible to predict.

The biggest question for a team like the Magic is whether they can indeed pick up where they left off.

Before the team can move forward, it is probably helpful to remember where this team stands and where things left off. There will not be a perfect continuation, of course, but the Magic have to hope the team can pick up where things left off.

But one advantage the Magic will not have is the schedule they had waited so long to face. After an exceptionally tough December and January, March was supposed to be the Magic’s big push for the postseason yet again. Everything was aligned for the team to end the season on a hot streak.

The Magic were playing their best basketball of the season. They had not only won three of the four games on that road trip, but they had also won eight of their last 12 games.

The reason for optimism about the rest of the season was only doubled by the schedule the Magic had next.

The schedule the Orlando Magic waited for

The Orlando Magic were scheduled to play eight of their next 10 at the Amway Center, where the team was 16-15. A modest record for sure, but being at home still helps a young team more than being on the road.

But the opponents the Magic were set to play were also manageable — at least on paper. Nine of the Magic’s next 10 games were against opponents with records worse than .500, including just four opponents that will be included in the NBA’s resumed season. Of those four opponents, only the Indiana Pacers (at Orlando) are above .500.

The closing kick was difficult. Orlando would have played five of its final seven games on the road with five games against teams heading to the NBA’s bubble. The Magic will still have to face that part of the schedule when they arrive at Disney.

The schedule the Magic face will be tougher than what they were supposed to face without a doubt. The team was preparing to enter the easiest part of its schedule — the Magic had the fourth-easiest schedule by opponent win percentage of any team entering the league’s bubble.

The Magic will get some of the benefits of this schedule. The league reportedly plans to have teams play opponents they would have played as if the season continued as normal. So while the Magic will not face the statistically easy schedule they originally had, they will still face a watered-down version of it.

Orlando has done extremely well against these teams, going 25-9 against teams with records worse than .500. Most of that is gone now, but the team should get the benefit of at least three games against these teams in the bubble.

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Not that the Sacramento Kings, Brooklyn Nets and New Orleans Pelicans are pushovers. These are still the best opponents and extremely tough games.

Orlando Magic still need to prove themselves

Orlando still had to prove itself against the best teams in the league. Their five wins against teams with records better than .500 are the fewest of any team heading to the campus setting.

Orlando struggled to get to a higher level of playing. The kind of level the team will need to get at for the Playoffs.

The Magic will have to rebuild confidence to make a run to finish seventh in the Eastern Conference and avoid a play-in game if they are unable to do so.

The benefit they have is they control a lot of their own destiny. Orlando will likely play at least one, if not both, games against Brooklyn when the season resumes. And the Washington Wizards will likely face one of the toughest schedules when the team enters the campus setting — the Wizards were slated to play the toughest schedule of any team entering the bubble.

The schedule the Magic were supposed to play is a moot point at this point. The team will not get the benefit of playing the Chicago Bulls (twice), Detroit Pistons, New York Knicks or Cleveland Cavaliers.

Those games might have been enough to put the team over the top for the seventh-seed and even get the team to .500. The Magic have largely taken care of their business against these teams, helping the team stake its Playoff spot simply on that strength.

What Orlando is going to have to prove when the season resumes is the team can beat the best teams in the league — or at least the teams it is even with. The schedule should still help them, especially early on if the league maintains the order of the schedule and not just the opponents, do that.

But the Magic certainly lost its biggest advantage to finish the season. And so the Magic have to hope they can keep up the momentum and confidence that had them finally beating quality opponents and beating them somewhat convincingly.

Next. Orlando Magic have so much to play for this season. dark

Orlando will not be able to rely on its schedule to get them to the finish. They are going to need to build off the lessons that helped them come home from that road trip in such an optimistic and confident mood.