Orlando Magic need to apply pressure to make Play-In Tournament

Paolo Banchero and the Orlando Magic have gone through their ups and downs this season so far. But they have the chance to make a real postseason push. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Paolo Banchero and the Orlando Magic have gone through their ups and downs this season so far. But they have the chance to make a real postseason push. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Orlando Magic are climbing.

They are beating the teams they should and are getting better as a team as they gain more confidence and build wins more often.

Orlando has gone 11-6 since snapping thhe team’s nine-game losing streak in early December. The team has started to carve a clearer identity, ranking 18th in offensive rating (114.0 points per 100 possessions) and 13th in defensive rating (113.3 points allowed per 100 possessions) since Dec. 7. But there are clearly still some areas the team is working to improve.

The Magic have played well enough to stay on the periphery of the postseason race now that the season has hit its back nine. The Orlando Magic trail the Chicago Bulls by 3.5 games for the final postseason start.

There is clearly work to do.

The Orlando Magic have looked decent on both sides of the ball this year but will need to continue growing as a team if they want to make the Play-In Tournament.

Orlando has shown its potential and its shortcomings already on this road trip.

The Orlando Magic started this current five-game road trip by beating the Golden State Warriors 115-101 albeit without Stephen Curry on the court. But it is always a good thing to see a young team like the Magic respond to a road trip by beating the team that won the championship last year. And to do so fairly decisively.

Orlando followed that win up with a terrible 136-111 loss against the Sacramento Kings but rebounded nicely against the Portland Trail Blazers with a 109-106 victory.

That type of grit shown against Portland in the fourth quarter is exactly what Orlando needs to bottle up in order to make a serious run at this year’s Play-In tournament.

Currently, the Magic sit at 13th in the Eastern Conference with an overall record of 16-26 and are 5-5 in their last 10 games. This is the same franchise that only won 21 games all of last year. They are on pace, at least for a 30-plus-win season.

Things are trending up with the promise for much more. The postseason chase is a good carrot for this young team to chase. The focus though remains on the team’s overall development though.

The organization needs to focus on the continued growth of its key core players like Franz Wagner, Paulo Banchero and Wendell Carter. They have to continue to build around these three.

Banchero has definitely moved the needle with his play. The rookie is putting up the kind of statistics that would rival anyone in NBA history, even LeBron James. Banchero is averaging 21.2 points per game, 6.9 rebounds per game and 3.9 assists per game.

Not too shabby for a rookie.

Franz Wagner has followed up with a very strong sophomore campaign. He is averaging 20.2 points per game and shooting a 54.3-percent effective field goal percentage. If he maintains that play, Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner would become the first Magic duo to average 20 points per game in the same season since Shaquille O’Neal and Anfernee Hardaway in 1996.

The Magic will need them to continue to play at that level or higher if they want to make a Play-In appearance in this year’s postseason. And they are still in the race for position.

Standing in their way are the Washington Wizards, Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls. Two of those teams made the Playoffs last year and seem to have Playoff aspirations this year as well.

There is still a lot of season left. Orlando still has work to do to make that climb over those teams. It will take the team to continue this strong level of play.

But Orlando is playing up to its potential. The Magic may be 10 games under .500 but they have shown the style of basketball that can consistently win games. And who knows how this year will play out after the team is fully healthy.

That is still the biggest missing piece.

Jalen Suggs is easing his way back into the lineup after injuring his ankle and Jonathan Isaac looks to make his comeback after his torn ACL rehab at some point this year.

Either way, the Magic are looking like they are going in the right direction and this seems like the time they need to apply more pressure.

Meaning, the postseason is not as far off as many people believe. If the Magic continue to get healthy and play at a higher intensity they have a real shot at sliding into the 10th spot. They should feel that pressure to perform and should openly talk about this possibility of playing not just meaningful games into March and April but deep into April.

Right now it may seem like a long shot considering that the Orlando Magic play the Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets and the New Orleans Pelicans in their next three games.  All three of these teams will be postseason teams when the dust settles. There are going to be challenging moments ahead for this young team.

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We will all learn a lot more about the Magic and their true potential after this road trip. Hopefully, the Magic can come out unscathed and eager to make a run for the Play-In.