Orlando Magic staking their claim in the Eastern Conference

The Orlando Magic will get their time in the spotlight Tuesday. But the team has already firmly entrenched itself in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Their focus is on preparing for April.

Jalen Suggs and the Orlando Magic have put themselves in the playoff conversation in the Eastern Conference. There is no reason to think they are going anywhere.
Jalen Suggs and the Orlando Magic have put themselves in the playoff conversation in the Eastern Conference. There is no reason to think they are going anywhere. / Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando Magic fans still have to pinch themselves in some respects.

This week has seen the league put its promotional force behind Tuesday's national TV game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. It marks the Magic's first nationally televised game since the 2020 Bubble and the first at home since 2013.

The Magic have worked a lot in anonymity and behind the scenes. Nobody has been paying attention to this team on a national stage.

Of course, who could blame anyone for not paying attention to the franchise after Dwight Howard departed in 2012? They have just one winning season (in 2019) and two playoff appearances (2019 and 2020). The Magic have had to earn their way back to the national spotlight.

That is going to change quickly, though. The Magic have put themselves in the middle of the playoff race. They are thinking about and looking at the postseason in April not merely as a possibility but as a certainty. The team is looking at the big picture.

The Magic have staked their claim to a spot in the Eastern Conference's hierarchy. And they are already thinking about the postseason and what it takes to play there.

"It's in all of our minds," Jalen Suggs said after shootaround Tuesday. "We understand that's what we're playing for. We know that we're not playing for now. We want to build and continue to get better so we are playing our best basketball when we get to that point. It's a good thing. Not to think about it too much, but you have to have it in the back of your mind."

The Orlando Magic sit in sixth place in the Eastern Conference after the Indiana Pacers' Monday loss to the Charlotte Hornets. The teams are tied in the standings, with the Pacers having played two more games (the Pacers have one more win and one more loss entering Tuesday's game). They lead the Miami Heat by one game for seventh in the Eastern Conference and homecourt advantage for the Play-In Tournament.

On the other side, the Orlando Magic trail the Philadelphia 76ers by three games for fifth in the Eastern Conference standings.

This is all to say the Magic are in a deep playoff race for the rest of the season. Everyone is thinking about April and what it will take to get there from this point forward.

They all know every game is going to have some significance moving forward.

"It feels good," Suggs said after shootaround Tuesday. "Just happy to be in the running and in the mix. To be in the position to not deal with play-ins and get some homecourt advantage. And get ready for April basketball. It's a good feeling. Everyone is excited, and we're looking to make a little run."

The Magic do not seem to be going away. But they also recognize this is a new experience for them.

Several players have noted that this is their first trip through a playoff chase. Wendell Carter said he has never been above .500 this late into the season. Moe Wagner keeps showing up on lists of the most games played in the NBA without reaching the postseason.

This is a Magic team short on playoff experience. And part of what they are managing the rest of the season is how to prepare and play in these pressure-packed games.

It will mean more games like Tuesday's game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Magic have not been in the national spotlight very much. And the more they win, the more they should get big, marquee games like this.

Their place in the standings certainly would seem to merit more attention and notoriety.

The number one pick in Paolo Banchero has helped the Magic get some national attention. His trip to the All-Star Game this weekend will put the Magic front and center.

But Orlando is still largely on the periphery of the national story. The team has no other national TV games scheduled for the rest of the year. Casual basketball fans may not see the Magic again until the postseason begins.

Tuesday then will be the first time a lot of people get their chance to see the Magic. It is a chance to leave a good first impression.

"You're going to see us just fight all night," Jalen Suggs said after shootaround Tuesday. "Bringing energy, having fun, playing the game with joy. When we do those things, it often leads to good nights and good wins. We're going to bring that. Have fun with the crowd, big TV game, we haven't had one yet since I've been in the league. We're all a bit more excited. It's going to be a fun night."

Suggs said he cannot lie, he is aware of the attention of being on national TV. Even a veteran like Gary Harris noted it does not make a difference, but everyone knows the attention on the game.

As the Magic get better, they should get more time in the spotlight. That is how it is supposed to work.

All the Magic can do is keep focused on the task at hand. They can only do the work and pick up wins. That is how everyone starts to pay attention and look at this team. Tuesday will be a chance to showcase their progress, but it is not the death knell or the tipping point for a season.

The Magic have found themselves in the Eastern Conference race. They still have a lot set up for them -- an eight-game homestand in March and the easiest remaining schedule in the league by opponent win percentage.

Orlando has a lot of opportunity to secure its spot as the 6-seed in the Eastern Conference. There is a lot still to play for in front of the team.

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Regardless of whether they get the attention or not, the Magic have staked a place in the East. They do not seem ready to go anywhere as they prepare and focus on April.