Fast forward to this year. The Orlando Magic have become the odd team at the top of the Eastern Conference. The team that nobody knows if it has staying power or even proof of concept that they can compete with the best in the league.
The Orlando Magic have already picked up wins over the Denver Nuggets, Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks and Cleveland Cavaliers all at home. Those are already some clear contenders and Eastern Conference favorites. They beat the Los Angeles Lakers too.
The only quality road win was against the also up-and-coming Indiana Pacers. There is still a lot to prove for this Magic team.
But the Magic figured out their brand of basketball.
They are not going to throw up three-pointers to try to out-shoot the Celtics. They attack the rim, punish double teams on kick-out threes and get to the free-throw line.
It is a Magic team that has elevated their team-first, rim-running approach more than anyone expected.
It was evident in their 2022 back-to-back in Boston. So much of this was built off that hallmark weekend.
Boston was so focused on stopping Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner that Moe Wagner was left open inside of 10 feet all night as a result of the defense collapsing. He scored 27 points on 9-for-12 shooting.
Two days later, the Celtics plugged their gaps defensively but still fell to Orlando's ability to find from behind the arc and the right outside shot. Banchero went 6-for-7 (four of which coming off kick-outs from the lane), the most threes made in his young career.
While Orlando has improved across the board, Boston has done the same. Three key rotational players have gone, including 2021 Defensive Player of the Year, Marcus Smart.
Brad Stevens, however, has plugged two key holes not just with rotational players but All-Stars.
Guard Jrue Holiday is stepping into the Marcus Smart role. A top defensive guard himself, Holiday adds the offensive firepower this Celtics roster has needed in time with the Jayson Tatum/Jaylen Brown combo goes cold.
If that is not enough, 7-foot-3 star Kristpas Porzingis joins the fold coming off of his best statistical season with the Washington Wizards last year.
This is a loaded Celtics top six but the Magic have cracked this formula already, not just earlier this year, but in last year's back-to-back sweep, as well.
The success in 2022 was a jumping-off point for Orlando's success. They play physically. They attack the chest of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown with their size. They collapse the defense and pass in quality shots.
Rebuilding squads take a while to find an identity. Just at this year's tranking trio of the Washington Wizards, San Antonio Spurs and Detroit Pistons.
But Orlando re-routed the ship after last year's weekend in Boston. They went from a true rebuilding squad to a young core who knew the brand of basketball they wanted to play to be successful. They showed it could be.
Following those two wins, Orlando finished the year 23-28 -- much closer to a team that knew they could compete in the postseason than the first month and change of the 2022 season.
This season has been a success a year in the making from their success in Boston. They can compete with anyone.
Now sitting two games below the Celtics for first in the East, the Magic can make another statement if they play as they did last December: It was not a fluke. We are here to stay.