Orlando Magic’s tough second-half schedule will force team in a direction

Terrence Ross and Khem Birch have both made major contributions to a second unit that is proving to be a problem for Orlando Magic opponents. Mandatory Credit: Shawn Thew/Pool Photo viaUSA TODAY Sports
Terrence Ross and Khem Birch have both made major contributions to a second unit that is proving to be a problem for Orlando Magic opponents. Mandatory Credit: Shawn Thew/Pool Photo viaUSA TODAY Sports /

In the last two seasons, the Orlando Magic always knew they had easier days ahead. The last quarter of their schedule was set up to help the team get to the Playoffs. All they had to do was to be playing well enough to take advantage of it.

But as they entered the last phase of the season — and passed the trade deadline — they knew they could take advantage of that soft spot to make their move up the standings and push for the postseason.

During the 2019 season, the Magic struggled through the first 50 or so games. They were getting used to a new coach and a new way to play. The team was still putting everything together.

When things clicked though, they clicked at the exact right moment. The schedule softened a bit with a plethora of home games in March.

The Magic used that soft spot to catapult to the 7-seed and a 42-40 record, their first winning record and first playoff berth since 2012. It was a huge accomplishment that showed what the team was always capable of.

Armed with those expectations, the Magic again struggled out of the gate. Injuries slowed them down early and an unusually difficult schedule left them in a hole. But they knew brighter days were quickly coming on the horizon.

Just before the season went on hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic, they were looking forward to a home-heavy part of the schedule featuring several teams that were worse than .500.

In both cases, Orlando knew it could wait and stay afloat to the end of the season, making a push when the team was playing its best.

The Magic will not be able to count on that this time. And with the team struggling to stay afloat in an expanded Eastern Conference playoff field and big decisions to make to move this team forward, they will not have the luxury to wait anymore.

The Orlando Magic’s second-half schedule is as difficult as advertised. And with a team that has seemingly stagnated and struggled with injuries, they may finally be forced to decide where to take the franchise.

Just as they suspected when the first half of the schedule came out, they would need to build a cushion to make their playoff push. That playoff push will be much tougher with the schedule the Magic have to finish the season.

The NBA released the second half of its schedule. And, as expected, the Magic will face what looks on paper like one of the tougher schedules in the league the rest of the way.


Orlando may have lost its chance to build the cushion it would need to make the playoffs. But, as they say, they still have to play the game.

The first signpost

The first big date on the calendar is the March 25 trade deadline. The Orlando Magic will have its work cut out for it until then to prove the team is in a playoff position before that date.

In addition to the four games remaining in the first half of the season — including Thursday’s game against the Brooklyn Nets and Saturday’s game against the Western Conference-leading Utah Jazz — the team will play eight games before the deadline.

Among the games in that group will be two games against the scorching Miami Heat (now 15-17 and climbing the Eastern Conference standings), another matchup with the Brooklyn Nets at the Amway Center on March 19 and two home games against the Denver Nuggets (March 23) and Phoenix Suns (March 24).

These will all be difficult opponents. In fact, the two games against the Miami Heat and a quick trip to New York to take on the New York Knicks on March 18 are the only games against teams with losing records the Magic will face in this stretch before the trade deadline.

To say the least, Orlando will have to assess its playoff chances during this stretch and (finally) make a decision on how to best build up this roster.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

The Magic are beginning to fade in the playoff chase despite their three-game win streak last week. The Orlando Magic trail the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks and Miami Heat by two games for a spot in the play-in tournament and 2.5 games behind the Toronto Raptors, Chicago Bulls and Charlotte Hornets for fifth.

The Eastern Conference standings are still bunched up and the race is far from over. But the Magic are struggling to keep pace and they did not take advantage of the parts of the schedule they needed to.

The difficult road ahead

According to ESPN.com’s RPI ratings, the Orlando Magic have played the easiest schedule in the league so far. To see the team struggling this much — still 26th in the league in net rating even after the win streak — is certainly a poor sign that things will be sustained.

Injuries have been the story for the team undoubtedly. Orlando has likely survived this long because of the ease of the schedule as they dealt with all the absences — far more than any other team.

But reality is still going to hit this team hard even as they likely get Cole Anthony and Aaron Gordon back sometime after the All-Star Break.

That stretch before the trade deadline is tough. But the team is facing the toughest remaining schedule in the league (including the rest of the first half of the season) according to Tankathon.

Things do not get any easier after the trade deadline either.

The Magic head out West shortly after that date to play the Los Angeles Lakers (March 28), LA Clippers (March 30), New Orleans Pelicans (April 1), Utah Jazz (April 3) and Denver Nuggets (April 4).

The odd trip east to New Orleans is among the many scheduling quirks the Magic will have to deal with — including a strange at Brooklyn/home vs. New York back to back in mid-March.

There will still be chances to win. It is an Eastern Conference-heavy schedule and so there will be plenty of chances to rack up wins against teams currently worse than .500. But several teams in that category are expected to turn things around.

Perhaps the softest spot in the schedule on paper is in late April.

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The Orlando Magic will play at Cleveland Cavaliers (April 28), a home and home with the Memphis Grizzlies (in Memphis on April 30 and in Orlando on May 1), a quick trip to Detroit to face the Detroit Pistons (May 3), a home game against the Boston Celtics (May 5), then a road game against the Charlotte Hornets (May 7) and the home finale against the Minnesota Timberwolves (May 9).

That is about as easy as it will get for the Magic. But by then it might be too late to salvage the season. If the team is not able to find its groove and get healthy well before then, the team’s goals might shift.

In all, too, the Magic play eight of their final 11 games on the road. That includes the final four on the road which features a game in Milwaukee against the Milwaukee Bucks and a season-closing pair of games at the Philadelphia 76ers.

It will be a daunting task to get to that point. And an even bigger task to win those games on the road.

The schedule, in other words, is not set up for a playoff run. Not the way it was the last two years at the very least.

The Magic will have to take care of themselves first. They will have to find ways to win games. Hopefully getting Gordon and Anthony back to a group that has found something of a groove will help with that.

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Orlando can still control its own destiny. But with that trade deadline looming, it is unclear how long the Magic will roll that dice. They might finally make their decision. And this schedule might finally direct them down a path toward a rebuild.