Orlando Magic still proving themselves in the Playoff system

The Orlando Magic are going to the Playoffs but are still an unproven commodity in playoff situations. That is what the team is constantly trying to prove to itself and others as the season winds on.
Jalen Suggs and the Orlando Magic find themselves in a major playoff push. But they still have a lot to prove that they belong.
Jalen Suggs and the Orlando Magic find themselves in a major playoff push. But they still have a lot to prove that they belong. / David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

At this time of year, everything hurts.

But it is the good kind of hurt. The kind of hurt that means the team is playing meaningful basketball. Every floor burn and dive on the floor is worth it because there is an end goal. And this young Orlando Magic team is confident in what it can do.

The Magic should feel like they can win every game for the rest of the season. That is the position the team has put itself in and the confidence the team should be feeling.

Orlando is in the postseason. That spot is already secured. The team is also on track to make the Playoffs proper as a top-six season, avoiding the Play-In Tournament. There is still work to do to secure that spot.

But the Magic want something more. They want to prove they are worthy of that spot and a team to be reckoned with not just in their bright future but in the present.

To do that, they have to prove themselves on the court now. And that of course starts with beating other Playoff teams, something this young team is still out there to prove. Their four games against Western Conference playoff teams during this eight-game homestand has proven to be a testing ground for this team.

"Continue to win and continue to get better, continue to separate ourselves and cement ourselves in playoff play is the ultimate goal," Jalen Suggs said after shootaround Wednesday. "This has been a good homestand to take care of the body and get a mental reset. "There's a lot of constants when you are home going from practice to the crib or going to the games and the crib. We're really looking to take advantage while we're here and now we are getting this at the end of the season and this tough stretch. Really just capitalizing."

Orlando has done more than enough to establish itself as one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, even if nobody is really talking about it.

The Orlando Magic entered Wednesday's game against the Golden State Warriors fifth in the Eastern Conference. They are a game behind the New York Knicks for fourth and 1.5 games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers for third. They are as close to the Milwaukee Bucks in second (3.5 games) as they are to the Miami Heat in seventh.

That should speak to where the Magic sit in the Playoff picture.

Beyond being a young team that is rarely on national TV, the Magic are rarely spoken of as a threat. Some of that might have to do with the lack of major wins -- despite at least one win over every team in front of them in the standings including an In-Season Tournament victory over the Boston Celtics -- and the lack of experience in the Playoffs.

The Magic still have to prove themselves in the Playoffs against these kinds of opponents. They still have to prove themselves in the regular season before then.

For the season entering Wednesday's game, Orlando is 17-23 against teams with records better than .500. That is not a bad record at all, but it ranks eighth in the East for wins among those winning teams.

If you are looking to differentiate between the title-contending teams and teams like the Magic, look at this record. The Boston Celtics are 31-13 against teams with records better than .500 and the Milwaukee Bucks are 25-19. Only the Indiana Pacers are the remaining teams with a winning record against winning teams.

That says a lot about how far the Magic still have to go and how important the quartet of games within this homestand that started against the New Orleans Pelicans and continued with Saturday's loss to the Sacramento Kings and concludes with Wednesday's game against the Golden State Warriors and Friday's game against the LA Clippers are to proving where the Magic stand.

Orlando needs at least a split of those four games to have a shot at a 6-2 homestand. But the team needs every win it can get to keep pace in the Playoff race -- especially with five of the final seven games on the road and just two remaining against teams with losing records (the Houston Rockets are now 36-35 and suddenly in the Western Conference Play-In picture).

Every game is important now. But these games against likely Playoff and postseason teams seem to take on added importance considering this is where the Magic are headed and want to succeed.

"All are very important," Suggs said after shootaround Wednesday. "Whether we're playing playoff opponents or not, these games matter. Guys are looking to get better. We're looking to continue to build a rhythm and a flow going into that. That's where we've positioned ourselves."

The trick though is not to look at the bigger picture, as much as everyone wants to and heap importance onto these kinds of games. The Magic had a favorable road to the end of the season and they have done well to take care of business -- their 25-6 record trails only the Celtics for most wins against teams with records worse than .500.

Orlando has tried to split the season into five-game breakdowns to track their improvement and growth. The team wants to take every game as a one-game series, so to speak.

The Magic are trying to be present in the moment to play their best. That is what it will take when they reach the Playoffs and have to battle these intense games.

Any practice they can get at playing Playoff-type games -- whether at home or on the road -- will be important.

"Just continued energy, focusing on our gameplan night in and night out," coach Jamahl Mosley said after shootaround Wednesday. "The more we can look at it as a one-game series, making sure we focus in on the gameplan, continuing to get better at what we do. Obviously, the opponent they matter, but we have to make sure that we're focused on how we continue to get better and over and over again we say that we are playing our best basketball in March and April."

That is still the goal. The Magic are trying to improve in every way they can. And this is still a big measuring stick.

These four games are a test for the team -- specifically after the disappointing losses to the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers that sat between the team's five-game win streaks. The Magic have proven this year they can stack up wins against teams with poor records. But they still have to prove they can beat the top competition in the league.

That is something they are working on every game. Unfortunately, there are only precious few opportunities to make that stand left on the schedule.

"We want to be humble and take it to the last game and not say anything before it gets there," Suggs said after shootaround Wednesday. "That's the reality of the situation, I think we'd be remiss not to accept that, acknowledge that and not use that only as motivation but as joy and fuel to continue hooping and getting better. Just looking to continue to close this homestead the right way, continue playing good basketball and get us another one."

Next. Magic Playoff X-Factors 03.27.24. 4 Playoff X-Factors for the Orlando Magic. dark

Every chance the Magic have to get these proving-ground wins is vital to solidifying their confidence and potential.