Orlando Magic continue rounding into form as Miami Heat loom as next test

The Orlando Magic have been quietly creeping back up the Eastern Conference standings and are looking to extend their first three-game winning streak since December against their in-state rival, the Miami Heat.
Paolo Banchero and the Orlando Magic started to climb the standings and are preparing for a critical matchup with the Miami Heat on Tuesday to close their road trip.
Paolo Banchero and the Orlando Magic started to climb the standings and are preparing for a critical matchup with the Miami Heat on Tuesday to close their road trip. / Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

After winning in Detroit on Sunday afternoon, the Orlando Magic were briefly in the sixth seed ahead of the Indiana Pacers.

That did not last long. Indiana Pacers defeated the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday night to retain sixth, albeit by a half-game. But that is not the end of the standings intrigue.

On Sunday, the Miami Heat's loss to the LA Clippers at Kaseya Center pushed the Orlando Magic to seventh in the Eastern Conference. Orlando leads Miami for homecourt in the 7/8 Play-In Game by one game at 27-23. The Heat sit at 26-24.

With 32 games remaining this season, the Magic are in the thick of a tight playoff chase.

The Pacers, Magic and Heat are all gearing up for a tough battle down the stretch for the Eastern Conference's all-important sixth seed. That team will avoid the Play-In Tournament and the uncertainty of two single-elimination games.

If Orlando wants to be the team that gets its shot at this important marker, it can only do so by winning intense games like Tuesday's showdown in Miami.

The stakes are simple with how close things are in the Eastern Conference. And things are about to get more intense. The Magic have an opportunity to pick up a full game in the standings on the Heat and a much more commanding two-game lead overall.

The Magic close their five-game road trip in Miami on Tuesday, setting up a massive showdown between Florida's two NBA teams. Considering it is early February, it may not have playoff intensity. But the game has clear playoff stakes.

This is an important road test for a Magic team that has started to get healthy again and find its groove. A win would help build momentum and close a 4-1 road trip.

It is also an easy way for the team to plant its flag on the race for the 6-seed, the Southeast Division title and homecourt should they remain in the 7/8 game.

Many players on the Orlando roster, starting with Paolo Banchero, have made clear their goal is to deliver that long-awaited playoff appearance for the team. Tuesday's game will go a very long way down the stretch when the teams are fighting for playoff seeding.

There is a lot on the line that will reverberate into April.

Tuesday's game is the last between the Magic and the Heat this season. Miami holds a 2-1 season series lead.

A Magic win on Tuesday ties the season series for a potential tiebreaker at the end of the season. A loss means the Heat win the season series and that the Magic will have to finish with a better record than the Heat should the standings come to that.

One game could make the difference with the Eastern Conference standings bunched so tightly.

Orlando and Miami will most likely be in a battle for both the Southeast Division and a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference throughout the remainder of the season.

The next tiebreaker should the teams tie in record and season series, would be the division winner and division record.

The Heat hold the edge on that third tiebreaker too. But they are not so far ahead that the Magic could not catch them. There should be an intensity to plenty of upcoming games for that reason.

The Orlando Magic are 6-4 in the Southeast Division -- two losses each to the Miami Heat and Atlanta Hawks. The Heat are 10-2 with one loss to the Magic.

But the Orlando Magic still have three games against the Charlotte Hornets and one more against the Washington Wizards. There is still time for the Magic to match the Heat's Southeast Division record.

The Heat, like Orlando, do have one of the easier remaining strength of schedules, which includes one game against the San Antonio Spurs, three against the Detroit Pistons, two against the Portland Trail Blazers, two against the Toronto Raptors and two against the Washington Wizards.

The race is not decided. But it could be moot if the Magic do not split the season series.

The next tiebreaker is conference record. There, the Heat are 19-15 and the Magic are 18-13. The margins are narrow between the two teams. Every game is going to count.

And no game will count more than Tuesday's finale between the two rivals.

For the record, the Magic have won the season series against the Pacers with one game remaining on March 10 in Orlando. Should there be a three-way tie, the winner of the Southeast Division would earn the tiebreaker over a non-division winner.

That makes beating the Heat all the more important.

We are in the thick of the "dog days" of the NBA season with just two weeks until the All-Star break. But the Magic are playing some of their best basketball, giving up only 101.0 points per game during their three-game winning streak.

Plus, now they are fully healthy and starting to look it as they pick up steam. The Magic are on their first three-game winning streak since ending their nine-game winning streak in December.

The Miami Heat are coming off one of their longest losing streaks in some time, dropping seven straight before picking up back-to-back wins over the Sacramento Kings and Washington Wizards.

The Magic are in an excellent position to take advantage. During Orlando's recent three-game winning streak, Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner have combined for 48.3 points per game. They have both shown massive growth over this season.

They are looking to extend this play and Orlando's winning streak in what will no doubt be as close to a playoff atmosphere as most players in an Orlando uniform have experienced.

The intensity is starting to rise, and playoff contenders are locking in. The sixth seed is out there for whichever team wants it more between Orlando, Miami and Indiana.

A loss on Tuesday would be a significant blow to Orlando should the team tie with Miami at the end of the season, as it well could be.

At the end of Tuesday's game, the Magic will either find themselves with a two-game advantage for home court in the Play-In Tournament and in good shape to compete with Indiana for the sixth seed, or the Magic will be tied with the Heat and in position to have to play the 7/8 game on the road.

Likely that will be back at Kaseya Center and a short drive south. But a daunting trip nonetheless.