Orlando Magic eager to prove themselves against Playoff competition

The Orlando Magic have feasted on the soft spot of their schedule. Now they are eager to see where they stand against a run of Western Conference playoff teams as they eye the postseason.

The Orlando Magic are eager to face the New Orleans Pelicans and start their run of Playoff-level opponents to see where they stand ahead of the Playoffs.
The Orlando Magic are eager to face the New Orleans Pelicans and start their run of Playoff-level opponents to see where they stand ahead of the Playoffs. / Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

Wendell Carter said the Orlando Magic are talking about the big games ahead of them on the schedule this week. They are aware of what the Playoffs are and what they are not in some ways.

They are certainly not the kinds of opponents the Magic have easily dispatched the last few weeks.

They are not the Toronto Raptors and Charlotte Hornets, in other words.

They are teams like the New Orleans Pelicans, Thursday's opponent coming to the Kia Center as part of the team's eight-game homestand. They are teams fighting for the Playoffs and needing wins for something more than pride.

These are the games everyone lives for and the kind of games the Magic are going to have to win.

The soft part of the schedule is over. Yes, the Portland Trail Blazers and Charlotte Hornets remain on the schedule. But the Magic no longer have one of the easier schedules in the league. They are going to be playing teams fighting for as much as they are. And that will be a huge test for this team.

One they are clearly looking forward to as the chase for the Playoffs ramps up.

"I feel like we're going to get a playoff atmosphere [Thursday]," Wendell Carter said of facing the Pelicans on Thursday. "They are fifth in the West. The same spot that we're in. It's a good opportunity for us to see where we're at, see what we need to work on and see what the No. 5 team in the West looks like. We're excited, We've been talking about it all this week and looking forward to it against these West Coast teams. We're excited to start it off against New Orleans."

Orlando has taken care of business against teams under .500 all year.

The Orlando Magic are 26-6 against teams worse than .500 this year -- three losses to the Atlanta Hawks, two to the Brooklyn Nets and one to the Memphis Grizzlies. Only the Boston Celtics can match that win total in these games for the entire league.

The Magic have faced teams with losing records in 11 of the 14 games since the All-Star Break. They have gone 11-3 in those games, with two losses coming during that critical weekend pair of games against the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers.

Those losses left a bad taste in everyone's mouth considering how physical they were and how much the Magic struggled.

They are not the greatest representation of the Magic's ability to play against winning teams. But the Magic certainly still has a lot to prove playing against the better teams in the league.

Orlando is 15-22 against teams with records better than .500, the seventh-most wins against such teams in the Eastern Conference. Still, it is something this group still has to prove.

And so the next four games against the New Orleans Pelicans (42-26), Sacramento Kings (40-28), Golden State Warriors (36-32) and LA Clippers (43-25) are going to be a good litmus test for the team.

The Magic certainly view it as a check up for them.

"I think it presents a great opportunity," coach Jamahl Mosley said after shootaround on Thursday. "An opportunity to see another team that is hunting for playoff position and trying to navigate their way through it. But also a very good basketball team that plays a different style of basketball than teams we see in the East. The great thing about New Orleans is they present a combination of both -- speed, quickness, pace as well as physicality. It will be a great opportunity for our guys to sense and feel what is happening throughout the game."

With the Magic having secured a spot in the Play-In Tournament, they are already thinking and preparing for Playoff intensity.

That was the thing that seemed to take them aback in the losses to the Knicks and Pacers. The Knicks have played some of the best defense in the league since the All-Star Break (third in the league). The Pacers turned in their best defensive game of the season in the win over the Magic.

The Pelicans are second in the league in defensive rating since the break (106.7 points allowed per 100 possessions), the Kings are a surprising 12th (111.7 points per 100 possessions) and the Warriors are 13th (at 112.0 points per 100 possessions).

Orlando is going to face some much tougher challenges -- even though the team has the top defense in the league since the break. The Magic are going to find out exactly who they are. These are going to be physical games with something closer to Playoff intensity.

More importantly, these games will prove where they belong in the Eastern Conference pecking order. The Magic are still chasing homecourt advantage in the first round. And while they hold a two-game lead over the Indiana Pacers for fifth, that gap could close very quickly.

The Magic have to continue stacking up wins.

"I feel like we're forever the underdogs until we prove something," Carter said after shootaround Thursday. "Going into this game, this is a great opportunity that we can do what we've been doing against any other team against New Orleans. This is a great opportunity. We're all phenomenal players. We love matchups where we really have to work. I feel like this is going to be good for us and I feel like it's going to be very energetic in the arena tonight."

The Magic simply have not had many chances in the last month to have these kinds of statement games. They have not had the chance to see how they stack up against Playoff games.

There is that sense of needing to get some redemption. And how Orlando plays in the next four games will set the tone for the rest of the season and the postseason to come. Orlando's schedule still has some favorable runs even with five of the last seven coming on the road.

Magic reduce turnovers 03.21.24. Orlando Magic need to reduce turnovers ahead of Playoffs. dark. Next

The Magic are going to be gearing up and preparing for the Playoffs. Even with these four straight coming at home, Orlando is eager to see where it stacks up against these quality opponents.