After the Orlando Magic defeated the Boston Celtics 113-96 on Friday in their final group play game of this first In-Season Tournament, everyone had to sort of take a pause and think:
So. . . now what?
The Magic did all they needed to do. They went 3-1 to put themselves in first place in the group, defeating the tournament favorites, the Celtics, in the process. It was all they could have asked for.
If there is a flaw in this In-Season Tournament, it is the somewhat complicated way everyone has to explain how teams will advance in the tournament with the potential for so many teams to be tied across groups. It was definitely something everyone had to experience first to get a grasp on.
So when Moe Wagner was asked about what the team might have learned from these four games in the In-Season Tournament and the potential that these games had some more pressure and some added meaning, he had to stop and ask the basic question first:
"I have a question before I answer that," Wagner said after Friday's game. "We talked in the locker room, if Brooklyn loses, we're the Number one seed, right? What has to happen for us not to be the number one seed? Is that a dumb question?"
The Magic are in first place in East Group C entering the final day of group play games. Orlando is sitting back and watching the final day to see if they will advance to the quarterfinal round and who they might play.
So with their games done, the Magic, who have spent the past two weeks saying their focus is more on their own play and developing and growing and less on the results of the tournament, can now actually focus on what needs to happen to advance to the next round.
It can honestly be a little confusing.
A Magic PR rep confirmed the simplest way for the Orlando Magic to advance in the In-Season Tournament -- to the quarterfinal round on Dec. 4 or 5 at team sites -- is for the Brooklyn Nets to lose on Tuesday against the Toronto Raptors at Barclays Center. Things get more complicated from there.
There was no time in that press room discussion to go through every iteration it would take for the Magic to advance. It is not a sure thing despite the Magic doing everything they could do with two sizable home wins but the Magic are in a very good position to advance entering the final day.
They have posted a strong number in the clubhouse with a 3-1 record and a +22 point differential. But their ticket to the quarterfinal round is far from assured.
They will have to sit and wait and watch what happens Tuesday for their fate to be decided.
What are they watching for and what are they cheering for? With just one game left, we can say with some definition what has to happen for the Magic to advance and possibly get a home game.
Let this be your cheering guide then. Here is everything that needs to happen for the Magic to advance in the In-Season Tournament.
The first thing to establish are the tiebreaker procedures:
- Head-To-Head in Group Stage
- Point Differential
- Total Points in Group Stage
- 2023 Season Record
Win Group C
The easiest path for the Orlando Magic to advance to the quarterfinal of the In-Season Tournament is to win Group C. The Magic are sitting pretty at the top of the group right now but there are three teams with the chance to move on in the group. And all three teams can still advance.
With the circle between these three teams complete -- the Orlando Magic defeated the Boston Celtics, the Celtics defeated the Brooklyn Nets and the Nets defeated the Magic -- things could very well come down to point differential to determine who advances.
Everyone though is very aware of what I am about to share about the Magic's path to advancing. As much as they may hate it.
Jayson Tatum expressed his frustration with the Magic trying to add more points at the end of Friday's game and making it harder for them to advance (winning is always the easiest way to advance, the Magic blamed themselves for losing to the Nets by 20 points rather than the Nets for running the score up).
Here is how the standings sit with entering Tuesday's games:
That should help with the visualization. The Boston Celtics host the Chicago Bulls and the Brooklyn Nets host the Toronto Raptors in Tuesday's game. With both of those teams eliminated, there is still a lot in the air.
The advancing scenarios then become a bit easier to see:
ORL ADVANCES WITH
- A Brooklyn Nets LOSS to the Toronto Raptors OR
- A Brooklyn Nets WIN over the Toronto Raptors by fewer than 14 points (or by 14, scoring fewer than 106 points) AND a Boston Celtics WIN over the Chicago Bulls by fewer than 22 points (or by 22 points, scoring fewer than 122 points)
As you can see the scenarios for the Magic to win Group C are pretty straightforward. Or as straightforward as they can be (adding in the extra tiebreakers complicates things).
Basically, cheer for the Raptors on Tuesday as painful as that might be. Their win guarantees the Magic advance. If that cannot happen cheer for both the Celtics and Nets to win in close games. That will ensure the team advances.
The Wild Card
Just because the Orlando Magic do not win Group C does not mean the team is out of the running for the In-Season Tournament quarterfinals. The team, thanks to sizable wins over the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics, are in a decent spot to gain a Wild Card spot.
But even that is not guaranteed. In fact, the Magic will probably need some help to get the Wild Card if it comes to that.
The Magic though have set the lead in the clubhouse. It is going to be harder to explain all the different permutations for the Magic to advance, but we will try to lay them all out.
First, a look at the overall standings:
We do know the Wild Card winner will be 3-1 (or if it is not, then the Magic win Group C anyway). Kudos to Orlando for putting itself in a position to get to that point.
But that 20-point loss to the Brooklyn Nets still really hurts. And that could be the decisive factor in keeping the Magic out of the quarterfinal.
So, if the Magic do not win Group C -- either by losing the tiebreaker with the Nets because of a Celtics loss or because of point differential or the other tiebreakers -- here is what needs to happen for the Magic.
A loss by any of the 2-1 teams will eliminate them from advancing.
ORL ADVANCES WITH:
- Milwaukee Bucks LOSS to the Miami Heat by more than 17 points (or by 17 points scoring fewer than 92 points) OR
- New York Knicks LOSS to the Charlotte Hornets or WIN by fewer than 4 points (or by 4 points scoring fewer than 121 points) AND
- Miami Heat LOSS to the Milwaukee Bucks (the Heat pass the Magic with a win by fewer than 11 points, but that still leaves the Bucks ahead of the Magic for the wild card) AND
- Brooklyn Nets LOSS to the Toronto Raptors or WIN by fewer than 14 points (or by 14 points scoring fewer than 106 points) AND
- Cleveland Cavaliers LOSS to the Atlanta Hawks or WIN by fewer than 16 points (or by 16 points scoring fewer than 100 points) AND
- Boston Celtics LOSS to the Chicago Bulls or WIN by fewer than 22 points (or by 22 points scoring fewer than 122 points)
There are a lot of scenarios similar to what we saw in Group C. The Magic still need those teams to finish below them. And ultimately, Orlando needs to avoid tying Brooklyn.
But the interesting thing will happen in East Group B (we will go over that scenario in a bit).
The New York Knicks, Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat are all battling each other for that group. And the Magic likely would prefer the Knicks win that group since the Knicks only need to defeat a Hornets team that is likely without LaMelo Ball (he is listed as DOUBTFUL) by four points to pass the Magic in point differential.
The scenario in Group B is a bit complicated then.
The Bucks currently lead the group with a 3-0 record at a +39 point differential thanks to a blowout win over the Hornets. The Knicks are in second at +18 and the Heat are in third at +11. The Bucks and Heat play each other and could eat into each other's point differential.
The Knicks need a win and to make up that difference with the Bucks. That math is nearly impossible to do. But they need the Heat to beat the Bucks by a lot, but not too much and they need to blow out the Hornets.
In other words, the Magic could very easily be looking at a Group C win or bust. And trying to figure out how to get homecourt advantage in the quarterfinal over the Group B winner is that much more difficult -- would likely mean a Knicks loss and a Heat victory over the Bucks with the Magic winning Group C.
The Magic then should be cheering for a Knicks loss to the Hornets. Or cheer for close games across the board. Outside of the Knicks, close wins by any of the competitive teams will keep the Magic in front with their point differential.
To say the least, this is the complicated part of this process. But the math will be simple once the games are over and the standings are finalized.
The Magic have done all they can to put themselves in position to advance. Now they just have to sit and wait.