Orlando Magic cannot take "easy" schedule for granted

The Orlando Magic are coming out of the most difficult part of their schedule and should have some "winnable" games ahead. That does not make their path ahead easy.

Cole Anthony and the Orlando Magic are nearing a softer part of their schedule. That will still require their full attention.
Cole Anthony and the Orlando Magic are nearing a softer part of their schedule. That will still require their full attention. / Jeremy Reper-USA TODAY Sports
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The Orlando Magic have had a rough schedule of late.

The team may like the opportunity to bond out on the road and act like it is "them against the world.' But there is no doubt that life on the road can be a grind, even if it is the reality of the NBA.

It is not easy.

It feels like the Magic have been going through a dark, dark tunnel right now. The team has struggled with injuries and played some of the best teams in the league. They have had to find their way and stay afloat through it all.

Everyone has been waiting for that other shoe to drop and for the chance to breathe a little bit.

Maybe that is coming now, or maybe it is not. But no matter how you cut it, the Magic have the easiest schedule remaining by opponent win percentage. The Magic's opportunity to get better is going to be present. Orlando knows it has a chance if the team can get itself right.

But things will not be easy. Just because the schedule seems open for the Magic to improve does not mean it will happen. The Magic have to be ready to take advantage of that opportunity.

It is all still in front of the team.

"I think for us we're more locked in than we have ever been," Cole Anthony said after practice Thursday. "We're going to stay paranoid. We had a great start. We've had a little bit of a rocky stretch right here. We want to get back to playing our best basketball. We haven't played our best basketball of the season yet. You put that into perspective, we can go forward and play our best basketball. That will give us a great chance in that playoff picture."

The Magic know they are in the playoff race, just as they know how much things have slipped.

After starting 14-5, the Magic have gone 9-16 in their last 25 games. That would be a 30-win pace. If things feel a bit bleak, that is the reason why.

There is the good news of the schedule though.

Orlando has played the third-most difficult schedule in the league by opponent win percentage. They have played only six teams with losing records -- the Brooklyn Nets, Detroit Pistons, Atlanta Hawks (twice) and Golden State Warriors -- during these past 25 games.

They are currently in a stretch of 14 games on the road in 20 games. This is a road-heavy part of the schedule that will include six of the next seven on the road with a five-game road trip starting Monday in Dallas.

But the Magic still have a lot of opportunities to pick up steam.

The Magic have the easiest remaining schedule in the league by opponent win percentage. That includes two games against the Memphis Grizzlies (beginning with Friday's game in Memphis), three games against the Detroit Pistons (the first coming one week from Sunday), one game against the Washington Wizards, two games against the San Antonio Spurs (including Wednesday in San Antonio), three against the Charlotte Hornets and one against the Portland Trail Blazers.

If all goes to chalk, that should give the Magic 12 more wins with 38 games remaining. Three of those games will come in the seven-game stretch leading to the trade deadline. It represents a chance to right the ship even though the Magic will be on the road for a lot of this -- the Phoenix Suns game on Sunday is the only one at Kia Center.

Orlando will get those home games back. The team still has an eight-game homestand due up from March 17-April 1. Orlando will play four games at home -- San Antonio, Chicago, Oklahoma City and New York -- heading into the All-Star Break after this next road trip ends.

All this is, though, is an opportunity. The Magic still have to take advantage of these moments. And, as everyone was quick to remind the media, the 17-27 Memphis Grizzlies defeated the 24-20 Miami Heat at Kaseya Center on Wednesday night.

This is still the NBA. Anyone can win on any given night. None of these games are guarantees.

"It is exactly why you have to be mindful every single night you play," coach Jamahl Mosley said after practice Thursday. "That's why you have to focus on the opponent in front of you and not look ahead to what the schedule looks like. You have to take it one game at a time and follow the game plan to a tee and do the things you know will make you successful throughout the game."

The Magic know they have to take care of their business. They have to play better. And so having three days off to sharpen and tighten things up -- let alone get healthy -- should help.

Time will tell if it does. The Magic know they need to play better -- working to reduce turnovers and tightening up their defense especially -- to get where they want to go.

But all of Orlando's goals are still clearly in front of the team.

Entering Thursday's games, the Orlando Magic are a game behind the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat for sixth and seventh in the Eastern Conference. They trail the New York Knicks and Cleveland Cavaliers by four games for fourth and fifth. The Orlando Magic hold a 2.5-game lead over the Chicago Bulls for eighth.

All that is to say, if there does not seem to be much urgency ahead of the trade deadline, it is because the Magic know they are still in the playoff race with opportunities to improve and climb the standings just because of their schedule.

It is just about taking advantage of those opportunities.

One thing is clear, Orlando has come a long way even if there is still a long way yet to go.

"I think for us, it is all about putting it in perspective, looking at where we were a year ago, looking at where we were two years ago and looking at where we were three years ago," Anthony said after practice Thursday. "We have improved every year. The next step is locking in on the next 38, however many, games and not taking it for granted, respecting every opponent we have and throwing our best punch every game that we have."

The Magic have indeed come a long way. At this point last year, they were 16-28 through 44 games. The year before, they were 8-36. That is measurable progress.

Still, the Magic know there is much more to do and accomplish. The team is not skating to the end of the season. They are squarely in the playoff race.

And while the team does not want to look too far ahead on the schedule -- they still have to take things one game at a time, as the cliche goes -- there is an opportunity to improve and climb the standings.

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That starts with focusing and taking care of business Friday in Memphis. It begins with controlling these controllables and winning the games they are supposed to win. The Magic have to take care of these games. And Orlando can undoubtedly do that.