The NBA released the schedules for the rest of the season. The Orlando Magic will face challenges but also the chance to play their way in.
All Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford asks for his team is the chance to play their way into the Playoffs.
He does not want to back his way or fade toward the end of the season. His goal has always been to have his team playing better at the end of the season than they were at the beginning. His development and coaching plan is to have the team playing its best as the season ends.
That gradual growth worked last year as the team clicked at the right moment to make the Playoffs. It was starting to percolate again this year as the Magic picked up some critical wins to secure what felt like a lock on the eighth seed and the chance to climb higher to seventh.
The coronavirus pandemic and the pause it put on the season halted much of that progress.
Now, the Magic will have to be in overdrive. But more importantly, the team’s remaining schedule will give the Magic the chance they have always wanted:
The chance to play their way in, improve and make their mark on the rest of the season.
The NBA released the eight seeding games that will complete the regular season for the 22 teams heading to Disney beginning July 7 (the Magic are reportedly in the group heading to the Grand Floridian on the first “move-in day”). The Orlando Magic will indeed get their chance to play their way up to seventh and fend off the Washington Wizards for the eighth seed.
Orlando got exactly what it wanted — the chance to control its destiny.
The Orlando Magic will open their schedule July 31 with a critical matchup with the Brooklyn Nets for a 2:30 p.m. tip-off. Games will take place throughout the day during the eight seeding games, giving basketball fans a full-day’s worth of games for two weeks. Teams will play eight games in 15 days.
Indeed, the Magic virtually control their own destiny in achieving their clear goal of climbing to the 7-seed in the Eastern Conference. They not only get that opening game against Brooklyn, but a second one on August 11, the penultimate game of the season.
In other words, Orlando will get two chances to take control over the 7-seed in the Eastern Conference and avoid the potential play-in series with the Washington Wizards.
Advantages, but a difficult road home
Not that the road will be easy.
With only the 22 best teams remaining, everyone is facing a difficult schedule.
The Orlando Magic especially since they were about to reach the softest part of their schedule — eight of their next 10 games were at home and seven of their next 10 were against teams outside of the Playoff picture.
The Magic are one of the worst teams entering the bubble despite their Playoff position. And they are notably 5-26 against teams with records better than .500, the fewest wins of any team entering the bubble.
The Magic now have the seventh-easiest schedule remaining in the bubble after having the third-easiest remaining schedule among teams in the bubble by opponent win percentage before the season went on hold.
It still feels manageable, however.
The Orlando Magic will face two teams from the Western Conference outside of the playoff picture in the Sacramento Kings (August 2) and New Orleans Pelicans (August 13, the final game of the season).
It is not that those two teams are easy — the Magic defeated the Kings on a last-second putback and they played the Pelicans before Zion Williamson made his debut. But compared to the rest of the teams in the bubble, that feels like some advantage.
Those teams likely feel the same about the 30-35 Magic.
Eyeing the competition
As the chart shows, the Brooklyn Nets and Washington Wizards get some advantage from playing the new schedule.
The Wizards were slated to play one of the most difficult schedules the rest of the season. They get the benefit of not facing all of that — plus keeping the Phoenix Suns and Sacramento Kings on their schedule.
The Nets too will get some benefit from the restarted season. The Magic, Wizards and Kings — all teams with records worse than .500 — for half of their games for the rest of the season. The Brooklyn Nets will have to face the Milwaukee Bucks and the LA Clippers still.
The Magic will have their work cut out for them if they want to advance and make the Playoffs. They will have to face quality teams like the Indiana Pacers (Aug. 4), Boston Celtics (Aug. 9) and Toronto Raptors (Aug. 5).
The team will also get their first TNT game in seven years, taking on the Philadelphia 76ers on August 7.
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It will not be an easy road then.
But the Magic have an 8-7 record against teams remaining on their schedule. There are teams they have beaten before even if there are particular teams they have struggled with before too.
The opportunity is there for the Magic to make their run and make their statement in these final eight games. There is the chance to climb to seventh.
It really is in their hands.
Orlando Magic control their own destiny
And this is exactly how the Orlando Magic want it. They want the chance to build and grow through the course of the season. They want the chance to earn their way into the Playoffs.
The resumed schedule gives them a second chance to build momentum instead of gliding into the postseason. They will then get the chance to play their way up against the best league has to offer.
That is the test every coach wants for his team. That is what Clifford wants for his team.
Orlando will have to play its way into the Playoffs. The team will face challenges and will have to rise to them to secure their spot. And indeed to achieve its clear goal and beat out the Nets for the seventh-seed in the Eastern Conference.
With every team — even the Pelicans and Kings — needing wins to secure their position, every game should have something close to Playoff intensity. Even if teams will still need a little time to ramp back up.
Orlando will get its chance to play its way in. And by the time the Playoffs have started, the Magic should be battle-tested. Even with whatever nominal advantages the schedule appears to give them.