The Orlando Magic will be back for the resumption of the NBA season, but should already be wary of being a part of a play-in tournament to make the playoffs.
Just like that, there was light at the end of the tunnel. The NBA season will return, and as reported by a number of media outlets up until it became official, it will feature 22 teams playing eight regular season games before heading into the postseason in the same format as usual. All from the one location of Walt Disney World Resort, near Orlando in Lake Buena Vista. For the Orlando Magic, this is great news.
Years of being near the bottom of the standings behind them are now over, and as a result of currently being in the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference, they will get to play their eight seeding games before hopefully advancing to the postseason. To do it in a place so close to home is ideal as well.
Although they won’t be able to travel home after games, there isn’t a lot of movement required for the franchise to get all their players and personnel together either. It’s not exactly home advantage, but it’s about as close as a team could hope for and of the 22 left standing, the Magic are the only ones who get this mini boost.
Looking beyond this initial wave of excitement, however, and the prospect of actually making the playoffs, which earlier in the season seemed a near certainty, isn’t quite as sure a thing as it once was. Although there are only nine teams from the East getting to return to action, that ninth team represents a problem for the Magic.
That team is the Washington Wizards, and right now they are five games back in the loss column on the Magic. As per the statement issued by the NBA, the following applies if those two are separated by four games or less once the seeding games are completed.
If the team with the eighth-best combined record in its conference (Team A) is four games or fewer ahead of the team with the ninth-best combined record in the same conference (Team B), then Teams A and B would compete in a play-in tournament to determine the eighth playoff seed. To earn the eighth playoff seed, Team A would need to defeat Team B once and Team B would need to defeat Team A two games in a row.
Now, before getting negative about the, admittedly exciting for casual fans, prospect of the Orlando Magic having to beat the Wizards in a one-off game to get to the playoffs, there is one other angle to approach this. The Brooklyn Nets, who currently occupy the seventh seed, are only one game ahead of the Magic in the loss column, at 30-34.
Is it possible that the Magic could beat them to the seventh spot, locking up their spot in the postseason in the process? Absolutely, but there’s a couple of problems with that. One, the Magic have been among the most inconsistent rosters in the league for the last two years. A signature win over the Los Angeles Lakers usually followed by a head-scratching loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Eight games is not a long time to get any sort of consistency going, and the Orlando Magic haven’t been fast out of the blocks either. Can you really see them going 6-2 over that eight-game stretch? Again it’s possible, but knowing the Magic the way we do, not entirely likely. A 4-4 run, including a big win and equally annoying loss, is more likely, and that won’t be enough to catch the Nets.
That’s reason number two here, which is the fact they may have Kevin Durant back for this tournament. He may opt to continue sitting out and rehabbing the Achilles injury suffered in the NBA Finals last year, but the prospect of coming back to help a seventh seed win a championship in his first run of games with the Nets seems really enticing.
Even without Durant they have Kyrie Irving, while Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris and Jarrett Allen round out a strong top half of their rotation. If the Nets keep the Magic at arm’s length, then their attentions turn to the Wizards below them. Just like the Nets they too could be welcoming back an All-Star, as John Wall could potentially feature.
Wall would certainly be a lot rustier than the Magic, but alongside Bradley Beal forms a deadly backcourt duo that would given opponents all sorts of problems. You’d be pretty confident the Magic will be able to hold onto the eighth seed, but finishing four games better than the Wizards seems less likely.
That would then mean having to beat the Wizards just once, but if Washington was able to sneak a victory, all the pressure would be on the Magic in that second game. It in unclear if Jonathan Isaac would be back for then either, as although it was thought he would be, a recent update on his injury wasn’t all that encouraging, even if Isaac himself is keen to play.
If he is available it is a different story for the Magic, as he’s already their best defender on a given night. If Isaac isn’t around and Wall is however, then the path to the playoffs for a second straight season just got a whole lot tougher. Just being able to finish out their season is great, and the Orlando Magic never do things the easy way. It’ll be no different in Walt Disney World, about as close to home as they can get without the comforts that come with it.