This is chess not checkers.
And with Joel Embiid missing from the Philadelphia 76ers, the Orlando Magic have an opportunity to leapfrog a quality team in the Eastern Conference.
The race in the Eastern Conference will be tight the rest of the way. And the Magic have every opportunity to gain ground as the season enters its final stretch.
Orlando is tied for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference with the Miami Heat. But they hold a pair of wins over the sixth-seeded Indiana Pacers and the fourth-seeded New York Knicks. The Magic trail the Pacers by a half-game for sixth in the Eastern Conference and the chance to avoid the Play-In Tournament altogether.
Looking further ahead, though, the Orlando Magic trail the Philadelphia 76ers by only three games for fifth. They trail the Milwaukee Bucks and New York Knicks by five games for third and fourth place and a chance for homecourt advantage in the first round.
That is a pretty large gap, but it is not impossible to make up.
The Magic could easily climb up the ladder if they can go on a winning streak. But some things have to go right for them to do so.
It starts with the Magic taking care of their business. Everything starts with them winning and picking up ground.
Orlando has won four of its last five games and five of its previous seven. After the deep swoon the team went through in January, it appears that with health, the Magic are finally starting to become whole again and are returning to their form in November.
The Magic are fifth in the league in defensive rating, giving up 111.6 points per 100 possessions. Granting a pair of outlier games against the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat, the Orlando Magic are giving up just 110.7 points per 100 possessions in the last seven games.
That is an impressive rebound for one of the best defensive teams in the league. That is what the Magic will ride if they push up the standings.
The Magic's offense has even shown signs of life, with a 114.8 offensive rating in that stretch. Things seem to be coming together on the court.
And the schedule is opening up for the team too.
The Magic have a pretty easy schedule for their next 10 games. The Orlando Magic will play teams like the Detroit Pistons, Charlotte Hornets, Utah Jazz, Brooklyn Nets and Chicago Bulls. All games the team can win -- Orlando has beaten all of those teams except Brooklyn.
They have the easiest remaining schedule in the league by opponent win percentage. There is a chance to make up some significant ground.
All the Magic have to do is take care of business and everything will take care of itself.
These next 10 games can swing a ton of momentum in the Magic's direction and the team has to be ready to deal with success. Since they are a young team, they have a lot of room to grow into.
If the Magic can somehow beat the teams they are supposed to beat, they can easily be 8-2 in these next 10 games. That would put them at a record of 35-25 and firmly plant them into a top-four-seeded Eastern Conference team.
That part will not be easy. But the Magic have done well against teams at the bottom of the standings. Orlando is 15-6 against teams with records below .500. They have done well to beat these teams to set up their record.
The Magic will need help catching up to the pack competing for homecourt in the Eastern Conference.
First, the Philadelphia 76ers must fall flat on their face.
That is possible with Joel Embiid being sidelined because of surgery to repair a torn meniscus. He is about to miss at least the next four weeks, although it is still possible for Embiid to return before the regular season ends.
The Sixers have already started dropping, losing grip of the third seed in the Eastern Conference and winning only one of their last eight games.
Tyrese Maxey got his first All-Star nod after he put up 51 points against the Utah Jazz in that lone win. He is capable of leading the Sixers and keeping them afloat.
It is still not enough for the Sixers to keep a grip on their spot in the East. Everything feels wide open again. The standings in that area have gotten very tight.
Embiid still has a path to return after he is evaluated in four weeks. But there is a lot of uncertainty about the Sixers now. They will be thrown into the jumble in the middle of the Eastern Conference.
If the 76ers' freefall opens a door for a lot of teams in the Eastern Conference, specifically the Magic.
The Philadelphia 76ers' next 10 games without Embiid are a gauntlet with matchups against the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Milwaukee Bucks. The Embiid-less 76ers would be lucky to be 5-5 in those games.
There are a lot of teams clamoring to climb over them and get their spot for the Playoffs -- and the Bucks are in sight, too, having lost five of their last six to fall back to the pack.
The New York Knicks are the hottest team in the East at 33-19. They have miraculously tied the Bucks for third after winning 10 of their last 12 games. It goes to show how quickly a team can rise in the standings.
Just as Philadelphia and Milwaukee's struggles show how quickly teams can fall in this postseason hunt. The Knicks will be without OG Anunoby for some time after he had a procedure to clean up bone fragments in his elbow. The Knicks timed the surgery over the All-Star Break to minimize his absence, but they could also be staggering back to the pack.
With Orlando healthy and ramping up, the team should focus on that long climb to fourth and competing for homecourt advantage. It will be a long climb to get there. But the Magic are building momentum.
With the trade deadline behind them, Orlando has put faith in the group to deliver the team to the postseason. The Magic are starting to pick up steam again. And there is a path for them to make an impact to close the season.