Just one-half game behind the now-depleted Brooklyn Nets, the Orlando Magic are in prime position to grab the seventh seed. Now it is time to make it happen.
On July 31, the Orlando Magic will face the Brooklyn Nets in the team’s first game back after the NBA’s long hiatus. This game, the first of two games the Nets and Magic will play in the seeding round, will prove to be pivotal in setting the tone toward the bottom of what is left of the Eastern Conference.
Both teams, separated by just a one-half game in the standings, are looking to finish with the seventh seed in the conference — avoiding a first-round match-up against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Although this would likely mean a first-round series versus the Toronto Raptors, who have been dominant themselves, the Orlando Magic and Brooklyn Nets can agree on one thing: No one wants to play the Bucks.
The two games — the opener for the two teams and then each team’s penultimate game — will go a long way to determining who finishes seventh. The Magic and Net shave similar schedules, at least by opponent win percentage.
In essence, Orlando controls its own destiny for the seventh-seed. And passing Brooklyn should be the team’s unquestioned goal for the final eight games.
The Magic already have two wins against the Nets (for whatever the pre-virus season is worth in trying to predict things). The season itself will still give the Magic the opportunity to get the seventh-seed.
Orlando should feel it is in prime position to do this.
For the Magic, things were already looking great going into the NBA restart. Orlando had already beaten Brooklyn in both of the teams’ previous matchups in the regular season. It is confirmed the Nets will still be without their two superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving as the season resumes.
There will be no surprise contender coming out of the Nets with those two elite players returning from injury thanks to the hiatus.
But in the past couple of days, even more developments have come out that make this competition for the seventh seed even more favorable for the Magic.
On Monday, Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie announced that he may elect to stay home from the NBA’s return after testing positive for COVID-19. This would be a big blow to the Nets as Dinwiddie has been serving as the team’s offensive leader averaging 20.6 points per game to go with 6.8 assists per game.
After also testing positive, center DeAndre Jordan announced Monday we would be opting-out of Orlando.
Things only get worse for Brooklyn.
Wilson Chandler has also opted out of joining the team in Orlando citing his reason as “wanting to spend more time with family”. We also know that rookie Nicholas Claxton is out for the rest of the season after receiving shoulder surgery late last month.
No team is seemingly facing the same kind of absences the Brooklyn Nets are facing at this juncture. New York has largely bent the curve downward in its fight against the coronavirus. But everyone still has the potential for exposure to the disease.
The NBA is still conducting nearly daily testing, reporting another nine players tested positive in testing conducted between June 24-29. In 344 tests among players, that is a positive test rate of 2.6 percent.
Additionally in 884 tests of team staff members from June 24-29, only 10 tested positive — a 1.1-percent positive test rate.
The league is probably breathing some sigh of relief that instances are so low among its players and staff.
Originally 16 players tested positive out of 302 players tested in results announced last Friday, a positive test rate of 5.3 percent. The numbers are trending down within the league, a good sign for sure.
But that has not taken away from high-profile cases — such as Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets or the two players from the Brooklyn Nets.
The Nets are going to have to scramble to fill minutes especially if Dinwiddie is out.
So who will be suiting up for the Nets? It is looking like a rag-tag group of role players led by Caris LeVert, Joe Harris and Jarrett Allen.
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LeVert is a player that has been looking for a bigger role, now he has one. He has been solid thus far this season averaging 17.7 points per game. He even scored a career-high 51 points back in March.
Harris is a knockdown 3-point shooter but has yet to prove himself as a player who can carry an offense. Allen will enjoy occupying the paint again as the team’s starting center. He is always good for a highlight dunk or block.
Although there is upside with these three players, they are not the type of talent one would expect to be anchoring a potential playoff team. The Nets will be down their two top scorers in Irving and Dinwiddie. They have not played without Dinwiddie this season, having played all 64 games this season.
The Nets also face a little bit of turmoil when they return too.
Many have forgotten the Nets will also be led by interim coach Jacque Vaughn, as they controversially fired Kenny Atkinson back in March.
If there ever was a time for the Magic to pounce, this is it. The opportunity for the team to seize control will be there right from the start.
The Nets may not be completely falling apart, but they are not starting with their full deck in a situation that is already pretty uncertain. They could be without three of their four best players and will be coached by an interim coach who had a .239 winning percentage as the coach of the Magic.
With the way things are trending, the Nets will likely be more concerned with developing young players than winning games. The team will be focused on finding what young talent will pair well with Durant and Irving next season.
Before the recent Nets developments, it was clear that the Magic would be in a favorable position, but nothing quite like this. It is fair for fans to have high hopes.
If anything, the Magic have something very clear they can play for.
The focus is clear: win games, get the seventh seed and get ready for the Raptors. Developing young players will happen naturally when games are won.
When the 22-team restart was originally announced, there was talk among Orlando Magic fans about how the team could end up in a play-in game with the Washington Wizards. That should no longer be a concern.
The Magic look to be in the best shape of the three teams, as it was reported Wednesday the Wizards could possibly be without star Bradley Beal as he is unsure if he will play or not. That would almost certainly kill any chance of the Wizards making up ground on either the Magic or Nets.
For fans, this is a refreshing spot to be in. The Magic clearly have more talent than the current iterations of the Nets and Wizards. They have a clear goal they can and should achieve.
If the Magic can push past the Nets and Wizards, could they make some noise with some of the best teams in the East? Steve Clifford thinks so, stating this is a great opportunity for all teams to start with a blank slate.
That slate may be even better than blank. Coming into the bubble as the “home team” and with a clear advantage over the Nets, the Magic need to feel good about accomplishing something great.
It all starts with stealing the seven seed.