With the Orlando magic securing an overtime win against the Miami Heat in their last game, the Magic continue to give fans slight hope that the Play-In is achievable this season.
In reality, however, time has run out. There are not enough games left to make up the difference to snag that 10th spot in the Eastern Conference.
That is no bad thing, and losing competitively is the best course of action left for this young group to take for the remainder of the season, as they begin to eye the NBA Draft.
The next step in the process for the Orlando Magic is becoming a team that opponents dread facing. The groundwork for this is already laid, and we will see the fruits of it next season.
You need only look at the comments Jimmy Butler made after that 126-114 loss, to see how far the Magic have come under coach Jamahl Mosley in a relatively short amount of time.
Butler is one of the best voices in the league to comment on playing hard and generally being a nightmare to come up against, so his words should be read with pride for this young Magic team.
Speaking to Bally Sports after the loss, Butler had this to say;
"“They’ve (the Magic) gave us problems all year long. You got to tilt your hat to them over there for that, we just gotta do better from jump street. From the time that this game started, they imposed their will, and we didn’t deserve to win”."
The wording from Butler here is important, particularly in the way he uses the phrase “impose their will”.
The Magic are a young team that is growing quickly, but a team that does not have any experience in the postseason with one another. The Heat meanwhile, made the NBA Finals with this core.
So for the Magic to be imposing anything on a veteran group that has one of the best head coaches in the league in Erik Spoelstra is telling.
We have spoken recently about the malaise with which the Magic have played too often this season, and fixing this should be a high priority for the group.
But when they are locked in, they are able to beat just about any team in the league and have enjoyed some wins over much more established opponents already this season.
Their defensive rating of 114.1 poitns allowed per 100 possessions may sit below the league average at 19th, but this is due in part to the 5-20 start that the organization endured at the beginning of the season.
In the month of February, they ranked a superb fourth in this category (108.2 points allowed per 100 possessions), and have shown they are able to lock in and be extremely annoying to play against on any given night.
Personnel like Wendell Carter, Moe Wagner, Jalen Suggs, Goga Bitadze and Markelle Fultz are helping to drive this, with the Magic boasting players in every position who can defend well.
Rookie Paolo Banchero may even be an underrated defender already, and although the numbers do not quite back that logic up yet (defensive rating of 115.2 when he is on the court), to watch him play is to see a big-bodied individual moving well with all manner of opponents.
Banchero even played some minutes recently as a small ball center, a promising look into a wrinkle that coach Mosley is sure to come back to again in the future.
A look back to earlier in this season, and it becomes clear Butler’s comments about the Magic being difficult to play were not an outlier.
Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors, somebody who has been vocal about how poor the Magic have been in the past, was full of praise after a Nov. 3 meeting between the sides.
At that point in the season that was only the second win for the Magic, but Green was still high in his praise when speaking to the media after the game.
"“That team hasn’t won a lot of games… but they are competing. And if you were watching these games, they’re not getting blown out anymore. They are right there and they are learning how to win.”"
Green then went on to single out praise for first-overall pick Banchero, before giving coach Mosley the kind of backing that would have done his confidence no harm.
"“You have to give a lot of credit to Jamahl Mosley, who is leading the charge… I think that was the most confident Orlando Magic team, at least that I can remember, for six or seven years.”"
You may not want to read too much into the comments made by two of the most ferocious competitors the league has seen this century.
It may be that you favor numbers and hard facts, and that is fine. But even those numbers are beginning to paint the same picture that Butler and Green have this season.
The Magic are slowly becoming a pain for the rest of the league, and as long as they continue playing this way, teams are going to dread coming down to Florida next season and beyond.