Orlando Magic exuding confidence they can still finish season strong

Chuma Okeke is still growing in confidence as the Orlando Magic try to make sure they finish the season strong. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Chuma Okeke is still growing in confidence as the Orlando Magic try to make sure they finish the season strong. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

Orlando Magic coach Steve Clifford has brought out the standings on occasion. He has reminded his team of what they have accomplished in the past. There are always reminders of what the standard is for this team and the belief they can still reach it.

The Magic’s chances of making the playoffs are statistically small. But this is still a young team with something it can build and grow from. Orlando is not going to lie down the rest of the season.

That has not been how the team has operated.

Despite low playoff odds and a difficult schedule, the Orlando Magic still believe they have time to right the ship and make a playoff push. But their time is running out.

As Clifford reminded his team, the Magic were 11 games under .500 after 51 games in 2019 and 5.5 games out of the final playoff spot. The team really is not in any worse position than the team was back then.

With 33 games left to play, the Magic are only four games back of the final play-in spot (and six back of eighth). In that sense, the Magic are still within some striking distance of the playoffs.

Orlando is not giving up on things and they are not giving in despite an eight-game losing streak that has seemingly knocked the team down the playoff rung. This is not the typical team at the bottom of the standings.

"“I like how everybody’s energy is still high,” Al-Farouq Aminu said after practice Wednesday. “A lot of times, you will see guys be moping around, going to start hanging their heads or start being late. It will be little things you start noticing where slippage happens. I’ve been thankful that hasn’t happened.”"

Aminu said this is not the typical team at 13-26. The Magic do not feel they are as bad as their record would indicate. The injuries are truly the only reason they are where they are.

Still, the team has to prove it is not meant to be at this position in the standings. And after two days of practice, the Magic are projecting confidence they can break an eight-game losing streak and get back into the playoff picture.

That has been part of the character of this team since Clifford arrived in 2018. The team has always gotten better and played its best at the end of the season.

The Magic went 22-9 over those final 31 games in 2019 to get to 42-40 and the playoffs for the first time in seven years. All the months of building came to fruition.

The Magic again struggled to a 20-31 start last year as they dealt with early-season injuries. But Orlando was playing its best before the season went on hiatus for the coronavirus pandemic.

After the All-Star Break last year until the season went on hold, Orlando was 6-4 including winning three of four on that final road trip before the league shut down. As Magic players and staffers tell it, the Magic were as dangerous as any team entering the bubble even before injuries derailed the whole thing.

Some things never change with this team. Injuries have been the story for two years holding this team back.

Even with all the obstacles in front of them and the frustration of this injury-filled year, the Magic are still optimistic their best basketball is ahead of them. And their hope is that it can turn into another miraculous playoff run.

"“What our guys have always done a good job of is they have committed to getting better,” Clifford said after practice Wednesday. “That’s what the good teams do. You have to play better and better as the year goes on. their attitude these two days of practice have been very good. Hopefully, that will lead to better play or more sustained play [Thursday] night.”"

The task will be difficult.

Unlike the previous two seasons, the Magic will have a difficult finish to the year. By almost any measure they have one of the toughest schedules in the league.

The next three weeks especially will be difficult. The Orlando Magic play the New York Knicks on Thursday and then do not play another team outside of the playoff picture or with a losing record again until April 1 against the New Orleans Pelicans.

Orlando Magic
Orlando Magic /

Orlando Magic

This stretch includes Thursday’s weird travel schedule — at the New York Knicks on Thursday and home against the Brooklyn Nets on Friday before shuttling back north to face the Boston Celtics on Sunday.

The team’s three-game homestand that follows is not easy — the Denver Nuggets, Phoenix Suns and Portland Trail Blazers with the trade deadline in the middle. And then the Magic embark on a West Coast road trip that starts with the Los Angeles duo before heading east to face New Orleans. It closes back in the Rockies against the Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets.

If the Magic are going to keep pace in the playoff picture and stay within some striking distance, they will have to earn it over these next few weeks. Orlando’s season may well lose all of its hope in the coming weeks.

The trade deadline in the middle and the potential it has to shift the roster completely. Things are very much in flux. And this team is on its last legs — all while trying to halt an eight-game losing streak.

This team is still struggling to find its way. It will not be easy.

But with the hope of Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon returning to the lineup soon, the Magic are still confident they can turn things around and be the team they imagine themselves to be.

"“Of course there is an urgency, but at the same time, it is us sticking to what we know and staying calm and sticking to the game plan,” Chuma Okeke said after practice Wednesday. “Everything will fall together and fall in place. We all know the NBA is a game of runs, just like in the game but during the season. We plan to make our run and we just have to stay calm and stay together. Around the locker room and in the gym, everyone is locked in and everyone has their head up and in high spirits. We are going to keep that mentality and we’re going to make our run.”"

The time to make that run is clearly now. And while the team is taking some solace that injuries are why things have gone so far off the rails, losing is still frustrating. And the team wants to shed that.

Next. What an Aaron Gordon deal would look like. dark

They are still feeling the confidence of a team that knows it can make the playoffs. That might be the first step to getting there.