With All-Star Break over, Orlando Magic's playoff sprint now begins

The Orlando Magic got to the All-Star Break at 30-25 and in the Playoff picture. As the season resumes, the Magic are readying for the sprint to the postseason.
Wendell Carter and the Orlando Magic are in their first playoff chase. The sprint to the end of the season has begun.
Wendell Carter and the Orlando Magic are in their first playoff chase. The sprint to the end of the season has begun. / Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, the Orlando Magic felt the importance of the games after the All-Star Break. They thought they were close to the Play-In Tournament after their slow start and playing meaningful basketball. Finally healthy, the team saw an opportunity to grow, learn, and fight their way into the postseason.

That effort ultimately ended up short. The Magic were the last team eliminated from postseason contention but never got closer than three games in the final run to the end of the season. The Magic were in the race but never in the race.

They were always playing from behind and struggling to catch up. It made the race both real and imaginary. Their games after the All-Star Break had meaning, but they never really felt pressure. They never really threatened to make up the deficit they had dug themselves in.

It was a valuable experience. But it was not the whole experience the Magic knew they would need and know would become regular.

This year is different. Everyone can feel it around the building.

The Magic are in control of their destiny and control of their playoff fates. It would take a major collapse for the Magic to fall out of the postseason picture or even the 7/8 game.

Nobody believes this team is due for that kind of a fall.

As the All-Star Break ends and the team gets back to practice, there is a different feeling and a different sense of what will come for the final 27 games. This is a race to the playoffs, and the Magic are in the driver's seat.

The pressure is on this young team. And everything has changed after the All-Star Break this time around.

"It's a lot more attention to detail each game, not that it wasn't before," Wendell Carter said after practice Tuesday. "Us being human, we're making every game matter and every game count no matter who we are playing against. Just trying to give ourselves the best shot going into the playoffs of being a really good seed. Anywhere in that 5, 6, 7 range is very achievable for us. That's what we're shooting for right now."

The Magic find themselves in control of their playoff destiny.

They are tied for seventh in the Eastern Conference with the Miami Heat and just a half-game behind the Indiana Pacers for sixth. They are a mere 2.5 games behind the Philadelphia 76ers for fifth. The Orlando Magic are four games ahead of the Chicago Bulls for eighth.

Orlando is not playing catch-up this time around. The team is in the playoff picture. The team is eager to do more and climb the standings as the season continues.

The Magic can do that with the way their schedule is set up. Orlando has the easiest remaining schedule by opponent win percentage. Seventeen of their final 27 games are at Kia Center, including an eight-game homestand at the end of March.

Everything seems set for the Magic to take a big step forward. They have to take care of their business.

"If you look at the standings, it's obviously not going to be easy," Franz Wagner said after practice Tuesday. "There are a lot of teams competing for those spots. Everyone here believes in the group that we have. We just want to take advantage of that opportunity. I think we didn't have an easy season. Not everything went great, and we're in a pretty good spot. We want to take advantage of that."

That will be the big key, and that will be the focus for the team. They have set themselves up for success, but the job is not done by any means. These final 27 games will determine what the Magic's season will be.

The team has established a lot of who it is with its defense. Paolo Banchero has established himself as an All-Star and primary scorer.

The rest of the season, as the team gets pressured during the playoff race, it will have to focus on its core foundation to find success and come through on the other end.

"I think it's great for our group to understand what we're capable of doing knowing that you are in the hunt and knowing you are in the fight and being able to recognize you control a lot of that," coach Jamahl Mosley said after practice on Tuesday. "How you play on a consistent basis. We will continue to treat it the same in regards of one game at a time and break it down whether we are doing the right thing by our standard. Win or loss, we want to make sure we are playing our best basketball in the last two months of the season."

This is the first playoff push for this team. As Carter consistently puts it, this is the first time he has been above .500 at this stage of the season. He has never been in the Playoffs.

Only four players on the team -- Jonathan Isaac, Joe Ingles, Gary Harris and Markelle Fultz -- have even played in the playoffs.

There is a lot of focus and attention to detail the team has to learn and a lot of pressure this team will face for the first time. Everything is going to feel new.

That is the exciting part of the whole journey.

Everything for this team starts with themselves first. They are the ones driving where this team ultimately goes.

"All we can do is control every day that we are in the moment and do our best when the game starts," Franz Wagner said after practice Tuesday. "I think we're prepared. We should be ready to go. At the end of the day, that's what makes it fun. We don't know what's going to happen. I know we're going to enjoy it and stay together as a group."

That focus starts with a tricky three-game road trip beginning Thursday in Cleveland against the 2-seed Cleveland Cavaliers.

The break is indeed over. Every game is going to bring with it the weight of the playoff chase. Everyone's eyes are on what the postseason could mean for this team. They have come all this way.

Next. Wendell Carter strides 02.20.24. Wendell Carter's offense showing signs of growth. dark

The team now aims to finish the job. The 27-game sprint to the end of the season is here.