The Orlando Magic had two goals when they entered the NBA’s campus in July. The first was to be playing in a manner where they could make an impact and compete in their playoff series. And the second was to avoid playing in the play-in game against the Washington Wizards.
Orlando had a 5.5 game lead on Washington when the teams arrived to Disney. The Magic only had to maintain a 1.5-game lead to avoid that play-in game. They ended up expanding their lead and making the playoffs comfortably seven games better than the Wizards.
Orlando was clearly a playoff team in last year’s Eastern Conference. And the concern of having to put an entire season’s worth of work on the line was a scary prospect.
Whereas the Western Conference actually needed a play-in series with how bunched up all the teams fighting for eighth were — the Portland Trail Blazers gained the advantage in the series by only a half-game over the Memphis Grizzlies and Phoenix Suns in the standings.
The play-in game between the Blazers and the Grizzlies was fantastic television. It gave a real playoff feel to the game and the long-talked-about idea seemed to click. The NBA appears to be exploring a similar play-in experiment this season. It was a star-making performance from both Damian Lillard and Ja Morant.
The NBA is not leaving that idea off the table. The league is considering bringing the play-in series back for next season.
For a team like the Magic that can cut both ways, of course.
Orlando at the moment should believe it has a playoff team. And the team’s goals should remain to return to the postseason for a third straight year.
There are plenty of other teams angling for that spot too. A play-in series would certainly lower the margin for error for making the playoffs of having a chance to go to the playoffs.
It could mean the Magic will have to play some extra games to fend off a challenger. Or it could mean the team will be able to go through some growing pains and still have a chance at making the postseason.