Playoffs are the only goal that matters for the Orlando Magic

The Orlando Magic have a 27-game sprint to the finish of their season. And the only goal that matters now is making the Playoffs.

Paolo Banchero will be trying to lead the Orlando Magic to his first playoff berth as the season exits the All-Star Break.
Paolo Banchero will be trying to lead the Orlando Magic to his first playoff berth as the season exits the All-Star Break. / Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The All-Star Break is behind the Orlando Magic. The team has returned to practice. The finish line is on the horizon.

The pressure is starting to ramp up as the team's goals become clearer and more achievable.

If the NBA's regular season is a marathon and not a sprint, we are reaching the point where teams must start picking up the pace. We are reaching the point that it is indeed a sprint. And the Magic are going through something many of their young players have never done.

They are in the middle of a playoff race. And that is the only thing that matters the rest of the season.

The only goal the Magic have left to accomplish this year is to finish their job and make the playoffs.

That is not the Play-In Tournament alone. That is the Playoffs.

It is the only thing that matters to this Magic team now.

It is the only thing this team should be focused on. It is the only way the team can grow and develop to become the team it one day will be. This is the first important step.

Everything the Magic do after the All-Star Break should be geared toward achieving this goal. Getting to a seven-game series is an essential outcome for this young team to help it grow and become the title contender it hopes to be.

Put the hopes of developing Jett Howard or Caleb Houstan on the back burner to pick up wins and solidify that playoff spot. If a player is struggling or getting picked on, the Magic will have to adjust and shorten the rotation to have players who can help them win.

This is when it truly becomes a results business.

As much as the Magic want to stick to the process and do the right things more often than not, they will be judged on how many wins they end the season with and where they end up in the standings. And whether they advance out of the Play-In Tournament if it comes to that.

The way to serve the team's long-term development now is to maximize this team's short-term potential.

That is what the playoff chase is supposed to be about. Everyone is driving for a singular goal. The rest of the season is about sharpening the focus and the details to get to the playoffs.

Everything is set up for the Magic to accomplish this goal and potentially avoid the Play-In Tournament altogether.

The Orlando Magic exit the All-Star Break tied for seventh with the Miami Heat and a half-game behind the Indiana Pacers for sixth in the Eastern Conference. They are just 2.5 games behind the Philadelphia 76ers for fifth and three games behind the New York Knicks for fourth.

The Orlando Magic should feel safe to be in the 7/8 Play-In Game, at least. They lead the Chicago Bulls by four games for eighth. It would take a massive collapse not to have at least two shots to make the Playoff field.

On top of all of this, the Magic have the easiest remaining schedule by opponent win percentage.

That includes getting an eight-game homestand in late March that will determine where precisely the Magic land. That schedule includes some of its toughest games at the weirdest times of the year -- tonight's game against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the always-random first game out of the break and games against the Milwaukee Bucks (two of them) and Philadelphia 76ers at the end of the season when they may opt to rest players.

The standings are extremely tight. The Magic and any team will need whatever advantage they can find to succeed. Orlando is set up to have a solid finish to the season. The Magic have no excuses.

The only thing working against the Magic is experience.

They have only four players who have been to the playoffs in their careers -- Markelle Fultz, Jonathan Isaac, Joe Ingles and Gary Harris. These final 27 games and their associated pressure are entirely new to them.

But that is also the point. The Magic must experience the playoff chase and test the team under this pressure.

This is also why the playoffs are so important. The Magic need to see their team go through a seven-game series and its challenges. It will expose flaws in the roster and individual games they must correct and grow.

The Magic likely stood pat at the deadline as much out of fear of disrupting their chemistry and the apple cart of this team as they did to get a clearer glimpse of what they need through this crucible.

To be sure, the team knows it has needs it has to fill to be more competitive and grow.

Nothing is more instructive and important to this team's growth and development than that seven-game series. It is a necessity for this team.

The Magic's season at this point would not be a failure should the team not make the Playoffs and lose in the Play-In Game. The team has accomplished a lot and shown the fans and front office plenty to build on. But it would surely be a disappointment should the Magic lose out in the Play-In Tournament.

That is, unfortunately, the risk of the Play-In Tournament -- for as good as that will be to get the team to experience Game 7, must-win intensity, and potentially succeed in that setting. No one should count the Playoffs as a given, even with the potential of hosting an elimination game at the Kia Center.

The Atlanta Hawks, the current 10-seed, have had the Orlando Magic's number this year with two last-second victories. Nobody should want to face Trae Young in a single-elimination game.

The Magic will still have to earn their way into the playoffs. Nothing is given in this league. And every opportunity is merely that until a team takes advantage of it.

As good as this season has been, the Magic are still thinking about the team's future and what will help the team grow into a title contender in the next four or five seasons. The front office is still clearly thinking about its long-term vision.

The best way to build that long-term vision is to make the playoffs and get tested under those conditions. Everyone wants to see it for many reasons.

Next. Banchero All-Star confidence 02.21.24. Paolo Banchero's first All-Star bid gives him confidence. dark

That should be the only focus and goal for the rest of the season. The playoffs are all that matters after the All-Star Break.

The race is on.