Orlando Magic must continue to build when the schedule gets tougher

The Orlando Magic have an opportunity to solidify themselves among the top four teams in the Eastern Conference. But they will need to weather the storm when adversity hits.
Utah Jazz v Orlando Magic
Utah Jazz v Orlando Magic / Rich Storry/GettyImages

The Orlando Magic are on a roll, winning 11 of their past 14 games.

The team has beaten the teams they are supposed to beat as they get ready for the final quarter of the season. The good teams have to take care of their business and the Magic have done that with a 20-6 record against teams with records worse than .500.

That has enabled the team to climb in the standings, rising to sixth and a game back of fourth in the Eastern Conference. They have feasted on this soft part of the schedule.

The next stop is beating the better teams in the league. The schedule will not be so easy the rest of the way. There are big games ahead the Magic must win to secure a solid seed in the Playoffs.

Orlando has been strong since the All-Star Break. The team has lost just once since the team reconvened. And the lone defeat came to the Atlanta Hawks on a difficult back-to-back with Paolo Banchero out with an illness.

But this team has been on a tear since that game, winning its last three games and taking care of the home court.

The Orlando Magic defeated the Brooklyn Nets, Utah Jazz and Detroit Pistons this past week in fairly easy victories. Now they head back on the road for a bigger challenge.

They face a Charlotte Hornets squad looking to play spoiler at this point in the year tonight.

These are the types of games the coaching staff must look forward to because it shows a level of maturity and growth when you can compartmentalize the urgency to win while playing bottom-feeder teams.

The Magic have to win these kinds of games to build their record and maintain their momentum. A team on the rise cannot let games like these end in defeat and slip by. Wednesday's game at Washington will be a bigger challenge because of the team's struggles on the second night of back-to-backs.

But this is what good teams learn to do.

It prepares the team for new heights when the schedule gets tougher at the end of the year. If Banchero and the gang can pull together and string consecutive wins while the schedule is weaker, then they should have the confidence to have a winning record against the better teams later on.

But this has been a struggle. Orlando has a 15-20 record against teams with a winning record this season. Only two teams in the Eastern Conference -- the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks -- have winning records in these games. The Indiana Pacers are at 17-17.

That puts the Magic with the fourth-most wins in the Eastern Conference against teams with winning records. But this is still something the team needs to improve on. This will be the true test. And so games like this weekend's battle at the New York Knicks (on Friday) and at home against the Indiana Pacers (on Sunday) will be a good litmus test for this team's playoff push.

Orlando has put itself in a good position to climb the standings in the crowded middle of the Eastern Conference. Even homecourt advantage in the postseason is a possibility -- the Magic trail the Knicks by one game for fourth.

No one saw this coming. It would have been blasphemy for someone to think that the Magic could finish in the top four of the Eastern Conference. No one thought Orlando would be mentioned among the best teams in the NBA in Banchero's second year in the league.

But we are here.

Well not yet, the Magic are just in the conversation for being a top-four seed. But even that evolution is mind-blowing.

Orlando still has to prove itself though. There is still a lot this team needs to learn. This is a young team going through the playoff chase for the first time. They are playing with house money in a lot of ways.

The upcoming schedule for the Magic is going to be a challenge. After seven straight games (including the upcoming back-to-back) against teams with losing records, the team will need to be focused and ramp up to face stiffer competition.

This weekend's set with the Knicks and Pacers are critical to building separation from direct Eastern Conference competition. Orlando still has an eight-game homestand coming up. But that homestand features difficult Western Conference opponents like the New Orleans Pelicans, Golden State Warriors, LA Clippers and Sacramento Kings. Those teams are in their own playoff fights and need those games just as much.

It will be good to see how Jamahl Mosely and the coaching staff react to teams playing in desperation mode and spoiler mode.

At the end of the day, the Magic know they have to take care of their business. And this team has the confidence to win games.

The Magic may be headed to a place they have not been since Dwight Howard was a part of the team. If they can show they are ready to face the resistance from these types of teams and beat the teams that they are supposed to beat, they will set themselves up well for the Playoffs.