Orlando Magic’s only goal is to finish seventh in the Eastern Conference

Goals shift throughout the course of the season. The Orlando Magic’s goal for the seeding round is clear — finish seventh and climb over the Brooklyn Nets.

Goals in the course of an 82-game schedule shift and change. Realities differ and teams have to make the best of their situation. Things are never static in the NBA. There always needs to be some way to push forward.

The Orlando Magic did not meet expectations this year.

They wanted to take another step up in the Eastern Conference pecking order. Whether it is because of injuries or the limitations of their current roster, the Magic found themselves right where they were last year.

It was not quite a season of stagnation. The team was likely to finish with a record worse than last year’s 42-40 mark, even if the team ended up in the same seed.

Goals shift as the season changes and reality changes. There is no getting back that hopes of finishing with home-court advantage or a player emerging as an All-Star. It does not change the way the team has to evaluate itself over the summer.

But there is still a goal to achieve. And that goal is clearly to finish seventh again.

As the Magic prepare to resume their season, this goal is the only thing that should matter. It is the only thing on which the Magic should be judged on.

The Orlando Magic sit one-half game behind the Brooklyn Nets for the seventh-seed. The “prize” might be a small one — avoiding the Milwaukee Bucks and getting to face the still-very good Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics — but it is one worth playing for.

Everyone needs goals to achieve. And the Magic still have a lot to play for and a lot to achieve this season.

Or at least enough to make the team get something worthwhile out of the rest of the season.

The open path and attention on themselves

The path is completely open for the Orlando Magic to finish seventh.

The Brooklyn Nets will still be without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. DeAndre Jordan is sitting out after testing positive for the coronavirus. Spencer Dinwiddie is considering doing so too after he tested positive. And Wilson Chandler is will sit out voluntarily out of concern for his family.

Not that Brooklyn is still not a potent team. The Nets will have their say in whether they earn the 7-seed. And the schedules for every team in the bubble will be difficult — even with the Magic and Nets playing head to head twice.

But the attention is rightly on the Magic. Or at least, the Magic are rightly putting the attention on themselves.

They know that returning to play is going to be a difficult prospect. They will not be able to jump right in and pick up where they left off when the season went on hold. A lot of the work teams do now is trying to find that rhythm again once they are allowed back into contact.

Evan Fournier said during his ZOOM teleconference with the media on Thursday that focus will have to be on themselves more than their opponents because of the strange way this season is resuming. Teams will need to be sharp in their own execution.

At least during the seeding round, advance scouting will not be as important as teams try to regain their own individual rhythm. As coach Steve Clifford said, teams still have to play well to win. That is ultimately what this will come down to.

But the situation is what it is. And playing games at a high level will still be a learning experience.

Setting and achieving goals

At this point, the Orlando Magic are playing for a learning experience and the chance for some redemption in the Playoffs after being disappointed with their five-game showing last year.

They still need little goals to get them through and motivate them through the eight seeding games. That learning experience is something everyone is eager to face. At least with how Magic players have told it, they are all eager to get back to work. Everyone seems set to join the team on the Disney campus.

They still need to set high expectations for themselves. They still need goals.

Undoubtedly the Magic did not reach the goals they set for themselves at the beginning of the season.

There will be hard choices to make this offseason. President of basketball operations Jeff Weltman certainly has to have those evaluations made and a full summer plan developed with the hiatus the league went on.

What happens at Disney may have very little bearing on the direction the team takes — barring a surprise Playoff run or the sudden development and improvement of any young players.

Injuries played a role in this season’s disappointment. But it remains nonetheless.

The Magic did not get off to the hot start they hoped for from their continuity from the previous season. They spent most of the year searching for the same spark from last year.

Playing their way in

All of that is done now. There are only the eight seeding games left and the Playoffs beyond that — either the potential two play-in games or the four playoff games. There are still a lot of games to be played and at least this small goal to accomplish.

Steve Clifford’s goal for his team has always been to play their way in. He does not want his team to back into the Playoffs or not play their best basketball at the end of the season.

The whole season last year was about building the foundation, delivering a consistent message and using that to get the buy in to turn things around. The Magic found that spark in early February and used the momentum to get to the end of the season.

This year was seeing a similar pattern. Yes, there were struggles early in the season, but the team was turning a corner and playing significantly better. Everyone felt a similar postseason run was in store.

Of course, now the team has to start from scratch. It has to go from zero to 100 to play important games. Unlike teams near the top of the standings, there will be no easing into the season’s restart.

Arguably, the Magic start the seeding round with their most important game of the season. Every game will have the weight of playoff importance for the Magic.

This is a reason the Magic should be excited for the return — if not, still mindful of the potential for injury and the sudden ramp back into the season. They will dive right back into a Playoff chase that will give their young players a tremendous opportunity for growth.

But that growth is only worth it if they achieve their goal. It is only worth it if they bring home something tangible for those efforts.

Outside of a surprise Playoff run, the Magic have only one thing they can gain from this — that seventh seed.

With all the conditions present, the Magic should view this as their baseline goal. Just like before the season, making the Playoffs was the baseline goal. The season could not be a success without it — this statement is still true with the possibility of a play-in round still present.

Now, the Magic should view anything less than finishing seventh during the seeding round as a failure. They were likely to finish seventh with their schedule and their play anyway. And so they would merely be completing the task they had before them in March.

This goal is achievable but still with challenges to overcome.

At this point in the season, goals have shifted. The Magic will not realize the potential they believe they had in November.

In July and August, the goal is the one they can achieve. And they should not be held to any standard that is lower than this for the rest of the season.