Orlando Magic need to make Play-In push after All-Star Break
The time after the All-Star Break for a team sitting in 13th place in the conference is typically counting the days to the end of the season.
These are the “Dog Days” for the organization and its fans. This would be where players start making nudges for offseason moves, younger talent would see minute increases in losing efforts, coaches would be preparing resumes and the franchise would be beefing up scouting reports for the draft.
This would be where the Orlando Magic would find themselves if the team did not add the Play-In Tournament. Opening up postseason opportunities all the way to the 10-seed has had the intended effect of giving more teams meaningful games.
That is where the Magic find themselves.
The Play-In Tournament has given a young Orlando Magic team the chance to play meaningful games after the All-Star Break. It is an opportunity this franchise should push its team to take advantage of.
Having bounced back from a 5-20 start, Orlando sits at 24-35. An impressive recovery. That is enough to draw them within four games of the final Play-In Spot, held by the Toronto Raptors at 28-31.
Indeed, those Play-In dreams are starting to slip as the Magic have treaded water for some time now.
But even so, that remains the team’s focus. It should remain the team’s focus. It would be best for the players and coaching staff to turn this season around and push for a tournament berth, adding Playoff experience to this young team may be the key to a decade full of success.
To be sure, there will be the temptation to focus on the draft, although Orlando is already playing its young players so there is no harm in seeing what they can do even if that decreases the team’s draft odds.
As things stand, in addition to the Magic being four games out of the final Play-In spot, the Orlando Magic would also hold the fifth-best odds to win the Lottery and the pick that is currently slotted seventh in the NBA Draft Lottery (a top-four protected owed to the Magic from the Chicago Bulls).
Pessimistic fans and some media outlets have flown the idea that Orlando is in a “fake competing” era and that once the second portion of the season starts the Magic should tank for France’s Victor Wembanyama. The Magic indeed still need a lot on their roster to compete at the highest levels.
But the truth is the Magic are closer to the Play-In tournament than to the four teams that have entrenched themselves at the bottom of the standings. It would take some pretty mean sabotage to catch the Charlotte Hornets, Detroit Pistons, Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs.
Doing that would be far more concerning to the team’s future than falling short of a Play-In berth.
The truth may well be that the team the Magic have been over the last three months is closer to their actual potential than the injury-riddled struggling team that started the season 5-20.
Orlando’s fortunes changed when the team got healthy. Coach Jamahl Mosley was able to build better rotations and players started to blossom with more consistent roles.
Since Dec. 7, the Magic are 19-15, making them in that period the eighth-best team in the Eastern Conference and 10th-best in the NBA by record.
With the league’s eighth-best defense rating and 21st-best offensive rating, Orlando and its players have been trending upwards, thanks to the mixture of consistency and development.
The competition above them in standings like the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks have been falling while others like the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards tread water playing .500 ball.
It is within the Magic’s hands to enter the playoff sphere for the first time since 2020. Orlando can still build some momentum to do it. It will help that Orlando has the 17th easiest schedule remaining by opponent record.
Fundamentally, what needs to occur for the Magic to make this push is health. It cannot be understated how important it is for any organization to succeed that its players are available to contribute.
With the eight-day break that Orlando has had due to the All-Star Break, that can only help heal the niches this team is experience and freshen everyone up for this stretch run.
The roster has shown that a nine-man rotation will be best unless someone like Chuma Okeke or Caleb Houstan can scrape a few minutes as a 10th man.
The starting lineup of Markelle Fultz, Gary Harris, Franz Wagner, Paolo Banchero and Wendell Carter that the team has used since December has a net rating of +3.0 points per 100 possessions.
While the bench four-man combination of Moe Wagner, Bol Bol, Cole Anthony and Jalen Suggs has a net rating of +14.8 points per 100 possessions, with that rating only growing larger when you add Franz Wagner into that bench mob.
That shows how good this team can be. But it has also been clear how much the group has struggled to close out games. The only way the team is going to get better on that front is through experience.
Orlando needs the taste of postseason competition to expedite the learning curve necessary for any future championship-raising opportunities.
The Magic’s roster is the third-youngest in the league. Only four players have played in the Playoffs, those being Bol Bol, Jonathan Isaac, Markelle Fultz and Gary Harris. However, Bol, Isaac and Fultz combined have played fewer combined games than Harris has.
No matter how much they have seen, it will always be different than experiencing first hand and that is what the players like Franz Wagner, Paolo Banchero, Wendell Carter, Cole Anthony and Suggs need.
They need to feel some of that winning pressure and the weight of those expectations.
The difference in postseason play calling, officiating and the grit and toughness to manufacture razor-thin margins of success will help Mosley’s staff as much as it will mentally prepare the young core for what needs to be worked on in their summers.
The organization can get a taste of a new era of “Blue and White Ignite” along with planning to use the second-highest amount of projected practical cap space in the league, totaling nearly $55 million if they decline all options — they will practically have a little less than $30 million in cap space available.
As the Eastern Conference cream of the crop keeps rising, the Magic may only have another season or two to get things right to burst through and bracket-bust the top-tier elites. To get there, the Magic have to put their work in now. They have to get playoff experience and as much pressure experience as this young team can get.
The end of this season for the Magic is all about winning as this franchise tries to turn a corner once again.