Orlando Magic turn attention toward Playoffs, race for seventh

Markelle Fultz and the Orlando Magic have clinched their spot in the postseason. (Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images)
Markelle Fultz and the Orlando Magic have clinched their spot in the postseason. (Photo by Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images) /

The Orlando Magic have wrapped up their spot in the playoffs. Now they are more focused on getting right for the Playoffs and trying to win seventh.

There was no celebration on the court for the Orlando Magic earning a second straight playoff berth.

This time that feat was expected. The team already knew what it was capable of and had no reason to think they would not do it again. They had no reason not to reach this benchmark.

This was the necessary but not sufficient achievement for a successful 2020 season.

The Magic entered the NBA campus pretty sure they would get there. The team had a 5.5-game lead on the Washington Wizards. All they had to do was stay two games clear of them to avoid a play-in series.

That was the first goal and it took only five games and two wins to get there.

The Magic at least accomplished that goal. But there is more to do before the season ends and more to play for.

"“Our goal at our initial meeting this year was to qualify for the playoffs and to be playing in a manner that we could be a factor,” coach Steve Clifford said after practice Saturday. “That goal remains our goal. I think the guys did a terrific job. If you look at the number of injuries that we had, some difficult times at parts of the schedule, we hung in there and we kept playing better. We were playing our best right before the play stoppage.”"

Now the focus is only on one thing — playing their best basketball and being ready for the playoffs. By doing that, the Magic can give themselves their best chance of achieving that secondary goal for this trip to the Disney campus.

Finishing seventh

The Orlando Magic still want to finish seventh.

Getting there will be a tougher task than making the playoffs. The Brooklyn Nets’ surprise victory over the Milwaukee Bucks gave them a surprise edge, letting them grow their lead over the Orlando Magic to 1.5 games with three games remaining.

The middle of the Nets’ schedule was much softer than the Magic’s and so this was somewhat expected. Especially if Orlando struggled to scratch out at least one win against the four playoff teams they played in the middle of their seeding round schedule.

To be sure, the margin for error is smaller for the Magic to achieve this goal. But they still view it as something they can reach, and in doing so, they will get themselves ready for the postseason.

"“It’s big,” Markelle Fultz said of making the playoffs after practice Saturday. “I think that is one of the goals we have too now. again, just taking it game by game and trying to get as well prepared as we can so we can be able to make some noise in the playoffs. It would be great to get to the 7-spot and make a playoff push to get there.”"

The Magic’s schedule on the way in is much easier.

They play the Boston Celtics on Sunday before finishing off with the Brooklyn Nets and New Orleans Pelicans. The Brooklyn Nets play the LA Clippers on Sunday (it looks like Kawhi Leonard will play in that game after sitting out Saturday’s game) before closing with the Orlando Magic and Portland Trail Blazers.

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Yes, Tuesday’s rematch with the Nets looms very large. Brooklyn’s “magic number” to clinch the seven seed is two wins or two Orlando losses. That one game could decide the seventh seed.

The focus though remains on the cliched playing one game at a time. Orlando has to get through Sunday’s game against Boston first.

That has been a difficult matchup for the Magic and they are still likely to play without Aaron Gordon and Michael Carter-Williams. The two are still listed as questionable for Sunday’s game. They might be getting saved or ensuring their full health for that big showdown Tuesday or beyond as the playoffs approach one week from Monday.

Prepping for the Playoffs

The bigger project though is about being ready for the playoffs.

Going for the 7-seed is a byproduct of that push. But how the Orlando Magic manage these two key players’ return will have ripple effects into the playoffs.

The team wants to win and be playing its best heading into the postseason. But with the spot wrapped up, health too is a factor.

There is a tall task ahead when the playoffs begin August 17.

"“The priority is to have them ready at full health by Game 1 of the playoff series regardless of who we are playing,” Steve Clifford said after practice Saturday. “We would like to win this game. We would like to finish as high as we can. The reality is we are going to play one of two terrific teams. Milwaukee and Toronto are both teams that are capable of winning the championship. We understand that. We want to be at full health as the priority above everything else.”"

The team has its eye on the postseason. And the team knows it will be difficult whether the Orlando Magic end up playing the Milwaukee Bucks or Toronto Raptors. The Magic went a combined 0-7 against those two teams through the course of the season. And none of those games was particularly close.

Orlando has to be playing its best to even have a shot of getting a game when the postseason begins.

So the Magic are still at work to get there. They are still trying to find consistency, especially against winning teams. They have one last chance to do that before a softer two-game landing into the postseason.

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Orlando is certainly happy to have earned a playoff spot. It is a critical next step in the franchise’s development. Clifford said the consecutive berths gives the Magic some legitimacy and the chance to continue growing.

The Magic accomplished their first goal. And now they are trying to move things forward in the right direction.

"“It’s a great accomplishment for us after all the years of struggle that we had, to make it two years in a row that’s great,” Nikola Vucevic said after Saturday’s practice. “Especially considering we had a lot of injuries and had to fight through a lot of stuff. I’m proud of my teammates and all the work we did and the coaching staff as well. It is definitely a step in the right direction for us. Hopefully, we can do something significant when we get there.”"

The Magic accomplished the first thing they wanted to get done inside the campus. Now comes the focus on the second.

They have to work themselves up and be ready to try to make some noise and be an impact player in the playoffs. That part will not be easy — and it may not necessarily mean winning a playoff series.

But it is clear that part will take work. The Magic have to be more efficient and consistent on the floor. Their struggles in this three-game losing streak have revealed a lot of the frustrating character of this team.

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There is still time to change it. And Orlando has to work to make the most of these final three games and see what rewards they can get from them.