5 teams the Orlando Magic will be fighting for a playoff spot
Last Year: 35-47, 11th East
Key Additions: Bruce Brown, Jarace Walker, Obi Toppin
Key Losses: Chris Duarte, George Hill
There are two teams that are undeniably on the rise in the Eastern Conference — the Orlando Magic and the Indiana Pacers.
Every other team is either already pretty well established, retooling or figuring out if their cores are good enough for the long run. Both the Magic and the Pacers are the only young teams who seem destined to break into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
And it will happen sooner than later.
The Pacers might be a slight bit ahead developmentally and they played their offseason with the aggression that maybe Magic fans wanted to see Jeff Weltman play his team with.
Some of that just might have to do with how their season went.
Where Orlando started behind the 8-ball with a 5-20 start, Indiana raced (pun intended) out of the gates behind an All-Star performance from Tyrese Haliburton. He averaged 20.7 points and 10.4 assists per game last season.
The Pacers started 23-18 at the midpoint of the season. But that is when Haliburton suffered an injury and Indiana lost 11 of its next 12 games and suddenly faced an uphill climb to the end of the 2023 season. Indiana never recovered.
A sophomore Bennedict Mathurin, championship experience from Bruce Brown and some interior depth with the drafting of Jarace Walker and the trade for Obi Toppin gives the Pacers some better depth and the ability to withstand that. You forget of the veterans they have too with Buddy Hield and Myles Turner providing steady play for the team.
The Pacers just have more offensive firepower and that is probably what has them in a space to make the leap into the postseason next year. Their defense still needs to get cleaned up.
And this could be the weakness in their case: The Pacers won a lot of close games last year (25-23 in clutch situations). But they still ranked 21st in offensive rating (113.8 points per 100 possessions) and 26th in defensive rating (117.1 points allowed per 100 possessions). That is typically the profile of a team playing for ping pong balls at the end of the season and not a postseason berth.
The Magic and Pacers are probably going to get compared to each other a lot. Even though Indiana is a more veteran team. These are two franchises who are going to be the next teams to break into that top four — along with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Orlando went 1-3 against Indiana last year, losing on a missed buzzer-beater from Franz Wagner early in the year and with a blowout win after the All-Star Break in Orlando.
And seeing that we are Magic historians, it would be great to renew that rivalry once again.