Can Orlando Magic Crack the NBA Postseason in 2019?
Orlando doesn’t need to pull a rabbit out of a hat; they just need to play solid basketball coming down the stretch.
With just 14 games remaining in the regular season, the Magic are lurking just a game behind the Heat for the eighth and final spot in the East.
Can Steve Clifford guide his club to the postseason, or will we see Orlando among the 14 teams picking in the lottery during June’s NBA Draft?
For starters, a victory tonight in the nation’s capital would go a long way in determining their playoff chances. Miami squares off against the Pistons before facing the Bucks and Hornets over the weekend.
The Heat will then play 9 of their final 13 games on the road, which should really open the door for the Magic.
Let’s find out if Orlando has enough firepower to seize the moment and burst through the opening.
Can the Magic Win the Southeast Division?
Currently trailing the Heat by just a single game, it’s entirely possible the Magic end up scooping their division in 2019.
It’s crazy to think that a sub-.500 record could be good enough to emerge from the Southeast, but that’s the current situation of the worst division in basketball.
Take a look at the odds to win at NBA betting sites, and you’ll see that the Magic are right in the thick of it.
The Magic have some extremely winnable games coming up on their schedule and should be able to vault ahead of Miami over the next 7-10 days. After returning from Washington tonight, Orlando embarks on a five-game homestand that could decide their fate.
They get the hapless Cavs on Thursday before the Hawks stroll into town on Sunday. Given what’s at stake for the Magic, let’s go ahead and call those “must-win games.”
New Orleans is next up on the docket, and it’s more than obvious that the Pels have thrown in the towel on the 2019 campaign. By the time Orlando battles Memphis on Friday, March 22nd, they will have played their seventh straight game against a team with a losing record.
So you can see, the Magic without a doubt are still in the running to win the Southeast Division. But to keep that plan in motion, they need to take care of business on their home floor over the next nine days.
The Frontcourt Duo Needs to Step It Up
The Magic don’t have any superstars on their roster, but they have some nice pieces who can still contribute. I’m not talking about Markelle Fultz, who has still yet to suit up for Orlando since being traded more than a month ago.
I’m talking about their power forward-center combo of Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic.
Has Aaron Gordon Taken a Step Back?
Everything was right on schedule for Aaron Gordon heading into year five as a professional. The former fourth pick in the 2014 NBA Draft had steadily progressed during his first four years in the league, and the evidence below proves that.
|Aaron Gordon Per Game Averages|
But look at his numbers this season, and you see a player who is leveling off.
Going into the year, Aaron looked like a candidate to average 20+ points and 10+ rebounds per game. So the fact that his scoring and rebounding numbers are down despite playing more minutes is a bit alarming.
Gordon’s potential is through the roof when you consider his overall skill set, which is why the expectations have been set so high. Here’s a guy who can knock down shots from the perimeter and still has the athleticism to pull off incredible dunks like this.
You can imagine why fans in Orlando have been so excited about this kid ever since he joined the team. But they can’t be happy that he shoots under 45% from the floor and hasn’t been the consistent force inside they thought he would be.
In terms of the last few weeks of the season, here are two things Gordon can do to ensure the Magic are still playing basketball beyond April 10th.
- Take pride in shutting down his opponent
- Be more efficient around the basket
Nikola Vucevic Continues to Develop
Nikola Vucevic is averaging a career high in points (20.7) and rebounds (12.0) this season, yet I still think the Magic could serve themselves well if they got him the ball in his sweet spots more frequently.
The 28-year-old Serb is shooting 52.1% from the field, which includes knocking down 38% of his three-point attempts. But it’s his ability to pass out of the double team and create open shots for his teammates that is perhaps Nikola’s greatest attribute.
I don’t want to call him a “poor man’s” Jokic, because Vucevic has been a beast this year in his own right. The fact that he’s averaging more than a block per game to go along with one steal and four assists tells you he was more than deserving of his 2019 All-Star selection.
But none of that matters in the end to Magic fans if this team falls short of the playoffs.
Finally, Some Head Coaching Stability
You have to go back to 2012 to find the last time the Magic played in the postseason. They were led there by Stan Van Gundy, who was then replaced by Jacque Vaughn at the end of the year. Vaughn was fired less than three seasons into the gig, allowing James Borrego to take over in the interim.
Scott Skiles then got a crack at the job, which lasted just one year. More recently, Frank Vogel was hired and fired within 24 months.
Forget about asking about the head coaching stability in Orlando over the last seven years. There hasn’t been any. It was as if the front office was playing a game of musical chairs and waiting until the right guy took his seat.
Well, if the Magic wind up slipping their way into the top eight in the Eastern Conference standings by season’s end, the fan base can look directly at their newest head coach as a major reason why.
Orlando not only hasn’t been to the postseason since 2012, but they haven’t even finished better than 11th in the East during that time span.
For a squad who has surpassed 30 wins just once over the last six years, it appears that the tide might be finally turning in the right direction.
Clifford was able to direct the Hornets to the playoffs twice, so he knows what it takes to get there. Let’s see how tactical he can be over the final 14 games. We’ll see if the Magic show up when push comes to shove.
Will the Orlando Magic Make the Playoffs?
Heading into Wednesday’s contest versus the Wizards, the “Brains” over at FiveThirtyEight actually give the Magic a 61% chance of reaching the playoffs. The fact that the Heat and Hornets are down at 27% and 14% (respectively) to make the playoffs tells you exactly who they predict will win the Southeast Division.
Sitting at 31-37, just breaking even across their final 14 games would give Orlando 38 wins. That’s the projected number of victories it will require to top the division, which is mind-boggling in its own right.
If the Magic can go on and win the division, no matter what happens after that, the season will be considered a success. Whatever takes place in a matchup against Milwaukee or Toronto can be forgiven as the Magic roster is in no way built to contend with the upper echelon of the conference.
Jonathan Isaac has shown flashes of brilliance, but he’s still learning how to play the game at the NBA level. D.J. Augustin and Evan Fournier are serviceable as a starting backcourt, but let’s not pretend they’re Steph Curry and Klay Thompson — or anything even remotely close.
The odds may have been stacked up against Orlando to make the playoffs, as their roster is depleted and lacks a closer. But that doesn’t change the here and now.
Orlando can ill-afford to waste any time if they plan on stamping their ticket to the 2019 NBA Playoffs. Presently in a four-horse race to win the Southeast Division, the Magic could really do themselves a favor and beat the Wiz this evening.
That would create some additional separation, along with getting them a half-game closer to catching Miami.
After that, it’ll come down to playing disciplined basketball and being efficient on the offensive end. Take care of those two things, and a date with the Bucks or the Raptors in round one awaits!