One early Playoff matchup the Orlando Magic must avoid

The Orlando Magic have nearly punched their ticket to the 2024 Playoffs but may need to avoid a couple of teams if they want to advance to round two.
Orlando Magic v Miami Heat
Orlando Magic v Miami Heat / Megan Briggs/GettyImages

The Orlando Magic are not scared of anyone.

The team has proven to be one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference as they fight to climb from the 4/5 matchup into the 3-seed and potentially even the 2-seed in the final two weeks of the regular season.

But the Playoffs are a different beast. This young Magic team will be experiencing the playoffs for the first time and there will be a sharp learning curve, even if the team has blown past every learning curve so far this season.

There is going to be a lot for the magic to learn and the Playoffs are going to hit them like a buzzsaw. That is why Orlando has to avoid a team with a ton of Playoff experience and championship mettle. The kind of team that knows how to step up on the playoff stage regardless of their record.

That is why the Orlando Magic must avoid a first-round matchup against the Miami Heat.

The Heat had the Magic's number all year, despite not having Jimmy Butler for two of their three victories against the Magic. Miami has proven to be a better team than Orlando even when its best player was not available.

The Magic had their own injury issues in several of those games -- the Magic lost a three-point game in Miami when the flu started working through the team and the second game in Miami came at the end of a long road trip where the team was clearly tired.

But the Heat were not healthy for either of those games either. If there is one thing Miami knows how to do it is to grind its way to wins no matter who is available.

Following the Miami Heat's loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday, the Heat sit in seventh place and trail the Orlando Magic by three games for the Southeast Division. With just six games remaining, Miami has to go undefeated if Orlando goes .500 to take the division crown.

A playoff spot for the Magic is all but assured.

But the Miami Heat still sit a half game behind the Indiana Pacers and are fighting to avoid the Play-In Tournament. The Heat still have one of the easier remaining schedules in the league by opponent win percentage and a Sunday matchup with the Pacers will likely determine who takes that 6-seed.

With Orlando knocking on the door of taking the 3-seed from Cleveland, a matchup with Miami in the first round is a very real possibility.

There are a lot of reasons the Magic should be concerned with this matchup.

The first is how thoroughly the Heat dominated the Magic in the season series, taking it 3-1. Even with the players who were absent for those games, Miami won at Kia Center in December by a comfortable nine points where a 3-point burst from Miami proved to be the difference.

The first win in Miami was a gritty affair with both teams dealing with injuries -- Bam Adebayo hit the game-winner and the Magic were left confused over a missed foul call on a Paolo Banchero attempt. The second win in Miami was at the end of a long road trip where the Magic got routed.

The Magic's lone win against the Heat came at Kia Center in January in a 105-87 victory. It is at least possible for Orlando to defeat Miami.

The Magic still appear set to come out on top and to win their first Southeast Division crown since 2019.

A large part of that is Paolo Banchero's emergence and his huge jump from being a rookie to an All-Star leading his team to nearly 50 wins. But against the Heat this year, Banchero is averaging only 19.5 points per game with 8.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game against the Heat this year. He shot 38.2 percent from the floor and 26.3 percent from three.

Those numbers are weighed down by a 10-point effort in the December loss. He scored 20 or more points in the other three games. Still, the Heat were able to pressure Banchero and make his life otugh.

Orlando's roster is inexperienced in the Playoffs, but more importantly, there is an experience deficit between Miami coach Erik Spoelstra and Orlando coach Jamahl Mosley. That could be the biggest difference between the two teams.

Although Mosely has led the Magic to unbelievable heights, no one in their right mind will tell you that he is a better coach than Spoelstra. That is a detail worth mentioning if these two Florida teams matchup in the first round.

That inexperience is present throughout the rosters. The Heat were in last year's Finals and have played in the conference finals for three of the past four years.

This will be a huge issue for the Magic if the teams were to face off in round one simply because Orlando has zero Playoff experience in its starting lineup. On the other hand, Miami has a plethora of Playoff experience on its roster from its starters to its bench.

And everyone knows what Jimmy Butler does in the Playoffs.

Butler is one of the NBA's elite two-way players who can uplift and inspire his team to play past their potential. Especially in the Playoffs.

Last year most pundits and journalists predicted the 8-seed Miami Heat to lose to the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round. But a lower back contusion kept Giannis Antetokounmpo from competing in every game. Butler took over and the Heat bulldozed their way through the Playoffs to the NBA Finals.

Having Butler in the postseason significantly increases the Heat's chances to win against an inexperience Magic team.

Another reason why the Magic should try to avoid the Heat in round one is because the Magic's second option in Franz Wagner is not on the level of the Heat's.

The Heat have one of the best big men in the NBA in Adebayo. Last year, the duo of Butler and Adebayo showed the world they can make a deep Finals run and why they should be one of the favorites to represent the conference no matter where they finish.

In other words, this is not the type of team the Magic should want to compete against in the first round.

Next. Magic measure up standard 04.05.24. Orlando Magic still measuring up to their standard. dark

But the Magic should be confident competing against any other team in the Eastern Conference not named the Miami Heat or the Boston Celtics. They have won the season series against the New York Knicks and the Indiana Pacers and would be competitive in both of those series.

But the Heat are a different animal.