Orlando Magic 35th Anniversary: Ranking every Orlando Magic playoff series

The Orlando Magic have been to the NBA Finals twice in their franchise history and have made plenty of playoff memories and heartaches along the way. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
The Orlando Magic have been to the NBA Finals twice in their franchise history and have made plenty of playoff memories and heartaches along the way. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /
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Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic, Milwaukee Bucks
Nikola Vucevic had a breakout playoff performance for the Orlando Magic in the NBA’s bubble in 2020. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, Pool) /

Ranking every Orlando Magic Playoff series

Series that went nowhere

Not every playoff series is the beginning of something great. We often like to think of postseason journeys as steps along the path. As Giannis Antetokounmpo put it after the Milwaukee Bucks’ shocking first-round series loss to the Miami Heat during the 2023 Playoffs, a series is only a failure if they do not learn from them.

That is how postseason series are supposed to be, especially for teams on the rise and contending for championships. They are steps in a multi-year journey.

For other teams, some playoff series are fairly regrettable, mere cameos to the larger story, if even that, rather than anything meaningful.

27. 2020 1st Round: Lost to Milwaukee Bucks, 4-1

The 2020 season was a frustrating one for the Orlando Magic. They failed to make good on the breakthrough into the Playoffs as their young veteran group was bumping dangerously close to its ceiling. Injuries did not help matters.

Still, the Magic were in the playoff chase once again. They were in the pole position for another low playoff seed and were starting to build some momentum as the season drew to a close.

Then the pandemic happened and put everything on pause. Orlando faced little danger even with the Play-In Tournament implemented for the bubble. But the Magic were never right when they arrived at Disney.

Several players suffered injuries during the seeding games or never got themselves all the way back into playing shape when the season resumed. The whole team just felt off.

Not as off as the Bucks ended up being throughout their trip to Disney. The Magic were able to steal the first game thanks to a surprising shooting performance from Gary Clark. But the Bucks made quick work of the Magic the rest of the series for a 4-1 series win.

The good news from this was that Nikola Vucevic got a measure of redemption averaging 28.0 points and 11.0 rebounds per game in the quick series.

26. 1996 2nd Round: Defeated Atlanta Hawks, 4-1

Everyone knew what the 1996 Eastern Conference Playoffs was leading to eventually. There was no doubt who the top two teams were and the storylines involved. It was just about getting there to tell that story.

The Orlando Magic had little trouble getting there. And their second-round series against the Atlanta Hawks was a quick walk through the park, for lack of a better term. Shaquille O’Neal averaged 27.8 points per game, 11.4 rebounds per game and even 4.6 assists per game while Anfernee Hardaway had 24.2 points per game and Horace Grant averaged a double-double with 18.0 points and 10.8 rebounds per game.

This was a mismatch and complete domination by the clearly better Magic team. The only thing that helped the Hawks avoid a sweep was Steve Smith’s 35-point effort in Game 4 and a 5-for-17 free-throw shooting performance from Shaquille O’Neal.

25. 1999 1st Round: Lost to Philadelphia 76ers, 3-1

The Orlando Magic have lost five series in franchise history when they had homecourt advantage. Only two could probably be accurately considered upsets (although one certainly was surprising what the final series result was).

The first of those pure upsets was the first-round series loss to the Philadelphia 76ers in the forgettable 1999 lockout-shortened season.

The Orlando Magic actually tied for the best record in the Eastern Conference, falling to third on a tiebreaker with the Miami Heat for the Atlantic Division title (do not worry, they also lost in a first-round upset).

This series is probably known best for Allen Iverson’s postseason coming out party — 28.3 points per game and 6.0 assists per game.

This series — like the season as a whole for everyone not named the San Antonio Spurs — was a complete mess for the Magic. Coach Chuck Daly and Anfernee Hardaway were pretty publicly fighting at this point and the Magic reached the conclusion it was time to hit a hard reset, setting the table for the Heart and Hustle team.

24. 2002 1st Round: Lost to Charlotte Hornets, 3-1

Tracy McGrady was brilliant and he was always brilliant in the playoffs. That was always a given. And the 2002 season was the best season for his teams. The Magic were the fifth seed this time around.

McGrady did his work once again, averaging 30.8 points per game. We can never talk enough about McGrady’s individual brilliance.

We can also never talk enough about how poorly the Magic surrounded him with any measure of help to support him for these playoff series. Grant Hill was out with an injury (as usual). Mike Miller was also dealing with an injury in the series, playing in only 72 minutes across the four-game series.

But the most famous moment of the series came in Game 3. With the series tied at 1-1, Baron Davis hit a three at the buzzer. The officials waved it off and without video review it stood as called. But the shot inspired the NBA to institute video review for buzzer-beating shots after replays clearly showed Davis’ shot should have counted.

Charlotte won in overtime anyway. Another disappointing early-2000s first-round exit.