Orlando Magic set limitless expectations with breakthrough season

The Orlando Magic are fighting for the 4-seed in the Eastern Conference and have already exceeded everyone's expectations. But what is the ceiling for this young team?
Orlando Magic v Charlotte Hornets
Orlando Magic v Charlotte Hornets / David Jensen/GettyImages

The Orlando Magic are on fire.

The team headed into Wednesday's matchup against the Washington Wizards winning 13 of its last 17 games. The Magic are in the midst of a playoff chase for the first time in several years and control their playoff destiny for the first time in more than a decade. The team is chasing a higher seed but is fairly secure in its place in the field.

For much of the last decade, this has been the time of year when the Magic usually fold the tent and go home for the summer.

That potential disappointment has turned into an unshakable confidence among the players on the roster that they are one of the best teams in the NBA.

Entering Wednesday's game, the Orlando Magic were tied with the New York Knicks for fourth in the Eastern Conference. They lead the defending Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat by a half-game along with the Philadelphia 76ers, without Joel Embiid for the moment. They lead the Indiana Pacers for eighth by 1.5 games.

Entering the final quarter of the season, the Magic are in the driver's seat for a favorable playoff seed. They have a favorable schedule -- including an eight-game homestand at the end of the month.

They have already surpassed last year's win total and they have met the Vegas over/unders from the preseason. The Magic are the surprise team nobody is talking about.

Just as clear, nobody is talking about what this team's potential could be. This does not seem like a flash in the pan, even if the Magic are outperforming their statistics to this point in the season. This feels like the beginning of a long run and the origin story for a future contender.

The crazy part is nobody knows just how good this Magic team can be. They have certainly taken everyone by surprise -- even preseason believers.

Nobody saw this team being this good this soon.

That type of confidence came to Orlando the moment Paolo Banchero stepped inside the Magic's locker room. He has not only changed the way the organization thinks about their team, but he has changed the way the national media thinks about the Magic by leading the team to new heights.

Banchero may have only one national TV appearance to his name so far in his career. But people in NBA circles know how good he is. The Magic are just seeking a stage to display this.

They have been fine working in the background for now. But soon the Magic are going to burst onto the stage and catch some fans completely by surprise. Maybe they have arrived a year earlier than anyone expected.

Nobody in the national or local media thought the Magic would be here at this point in the season. The national expectation for the Magic at the beginning of the year was the Play-In Tournament at best.

A lot of opinions about this team's trajectory has changed since preseason picks were made because now the Magic's future seems to have a light at the end of the tunnel.

They have established a clear identity. They entered Wednesday's game against the Wizards ranked fourth in the league in defensive rating. They have been inside the top five for most of the season. As Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said when the Heat faced the Magic in January, if you are in the top five in defensive rating by this point of the season, that is who you are.

The Magic know who they are and are asserting themselves even more. Even with a softer schedule, the Magic have dominated defensively with a 104.5 defensive rating in the first seven games out of the All-Star Break, the second-best mark in the league. That does not seem to be going away.

Orlando still has needs to fill. Everyone can see that. The team's offense lagged behind all year despite Paolo Banchero's stellar second season and Franz Wagner's strong run. They still look young and could use more shooting and a point guard, too.

But the team has had a successful season and it years to do more and make the most of this season before the team considers any major changes.

More importantly then, what does exceeding this years' expectations mean for the Magic?

It seems as if we would need to see the final postseason results to make a case for how bright the future is in Orlando. But for now, we can make the case they will at least be a Playoff team for the foreseeable future. The expectations in Orlando have risen very quickly.

The Magic are set for a second straight season making a 10-win improvement. They will be expected to continue this trajectory next year too.

Most people would probably be shocked if the Magic did not make the Playoffs at this point. That alone is a new revolution in the minds of NBA fans around the globe.

So what is the expectation for the Playoffs? Would a first-round exit be a disappointing year? Not likely. The team has a lot to learn. But everyone wants to see a competitive team that can compete on that stage.

One thing we do know is that this is not the same old Magic team.

There is no visible ceiling for the Magic this year. They have already exceeded everyone's expectations.

Now we must have some type of ceiling for a younger team. But this is a new version of the Orlando Magic. This version believes they can beat anyone.

The Playoffs may humble them this year. But it should feed the fires to do more. This team has already proven its ambitions.

Experience matters when projections are made. Orlando will have that experience after this season. We will know more of what they are capable of as the season winds to its conclusion.

From there, nobody should put limits on this team. Expect the unexpected.