Orlando Magic legitimized their progress and their place in first 20 games

The Orlando Magic seemed to shed a decade of rebuilding and frustration with a spirited opening quarter to the season. The Magic told the league they are moving forward with postseason aspirations.
Jalen Suggs and the Orlando Magic danced through the league in their first 20 games, establishing themselves as the up-and-comer in the East.
Jalen Suggs and the Orlando Magic danced through the league in their first 20 games, establishing themselves as the up-and-comer in the East. / Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

The Orlando Magic are back.

The team is back to its winning ways as the Magic currently hold the second seed in the Eastern Conference at 14-6 coming off the heels of a nine-game win streak.

Even a blind person can see that they have improved. And the first 20 games of the season served as a statement that the rebuilding days are over. The Magic are set to be a playoff contender this year and moving forward, anchored by budding stars Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner and with key role players and a defensive identity spearheaded by Jalen Suggs.

The team currently ranks fourth in the league in defensive rating and a surprising 15th in the league in offensive rating. Nearing the quarter mark of the season after 20 games, Orlando has the seventh-best net rating in the league. This has truly been one of the best teams in the league so far.

It is important then to remember how far they have come.

The Magic began this phase of their rebuild upon rebuild in 2021 when they opted to trade Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon in one big swoop. That set the foundations for their new team, netting Wendell Carter and the pick that would become Franz Wagner in the deal.

Still, that 2021 season was one of the worst in franchise history, dropping to 22-60, the team's worst record since the 2013 season, the first year after trading Dwight Howard. The first year of a rebuild is hard and the Magic still had some ways to go.

Orlando lost another 60 games in the 2022 season as the team struggled with injuries and struggled to find its place with such a young roster. That season though did help the Magic net the number one pick and the choice to select Paolo Banchero. After a breakthrough 34-win season last year that included a 29-28 finishing kick through the final three quarters, the Magic felt they could dream of the postseason.

A quarter of the way through this season, the Magic are not merely dreaming about the postseason. They are on a nearly 57-win pace and could easily flirt with 50 wins even if their win percentage crashes back to earth.

At the very least, the Magic have graduated from competing for a Play-In spot to expecting they will fight to make the playoffs outright as a top-six seed. If not compete for homecourt advantage.

The first quarter of the season has dared the Magic and their fans to dream.

Regardless of that eventual outcome in April, the Magic showed the NBA they are a much-improved team from last year. There is still work to do of course. History shows us that.

The 2007 Magic started the season 14-6 but finished 40-42 and the 8-seed in the East. That was a similarly young team, coming off a hot finish to the previous season, experiencing the postseason chase for the first time. In Dwight Howard's third season, he would make his playoff debut in a four-game sweep to the Detroit Pistons.

This season feels different though.

The Magic made a statement within their first 20 games this year. A statement that opponents around the league respect. The Magic are not a team you can take a night off against anymore. Superstar players have to be locked in when they make the trip to Orlando now, a vast difference between this year and the last 11 years. And everyone has taken note.

Now opponents must scout the Magic's stars in Banchero and Wagner the same way they would for any team that has players who can get you 20-plus points per game. They know they are facing an energetic and difficult defense. There is no easy night against the Magic. and the Amway Center has become a fortress with the Magic going 9-1 on the home parquet.

The respect level for the Magic has grown within a span of two months.

Rightfully so, the Magic have quietly been the talk of the NBA, they have had success under the radar, which is probably the best way to have success for a young team in the East. They have not been talked about like how the Indiana Pacers, Oklahoma City Thunder or the Sacramento Kings. And the Magic currently have a better overall record than all of those teams.

The statement the Magic made has not made national headlines, even though they have had the league's longest winning streak. Respect will still be earned on the court.

But the statement was made nonetheless. And teams like the Indiana Pacers, Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers have all suffered losses to this new Orlando Magic squad this season.

All four of those teams are expected to make deep runs in the 2024 NBA Playoffs. The Magic have made a statement in their first 20 games this year by beating these teams convincingly.

The Magic led by 40 points with three minutes left in the third quarter in the matchup with the Pacers in Indianapolis. The Magic ended up winning that game 128-116.

A 36-point fourth-quarter explosion separated the Magic from the Celtics in their matchup in November. Orlando kept Boston to less than 100 points and won 113-96 in a critical game in the In-Season Tournament, forcing Boston to do some shenanigans to advance on group play's final day.

The Magic were able to get three players to 20 or more points in their matchup against the defending champion Nuggets. Orlando hosted Denver back in November and won 124-119 in a game that no one predicted them to win.

These were huge wins that legitimized not only the team's franchise-record-tying nine-game win streak, but the start to the season as well. The Magic will have to keep proving themselves. But they appear here to stay.

dark. Next. Magic Pace 12.04.23. Orlando Magic want to play fast, but under control

So the Magic have made a statement within their first 20 games in 2023. Only time will tell if this statement that was made early in the year is sustainable.