With the All-Star Break and the NBA trade deadline in the rearview, now’s the time for a final playoff push for those teams on the edge of reaching the NBA the postseason. Sitting at eighth in the East with a record of 24-31, the Orlando Magic are one of those teams on the cusp. They’ve had an up-and-down, injury-filled season so far, and there are still 26 more games to play. Lately they’ve let the Washington Wizards creep a little closer to that final playoff seed, but if the Magic can just hold on and find a winning groove, they might make it to the playoffs again this year. Maybe they could even sneak into a seventh seed?
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What’s Going Right for the Magic…
The Magic haven’t been as good as they’d hoped to be this season, but they’ve still got some things going for them. For instance, Evan Fournier is having possibly the best season of his career, and he is showing up as the most consistent player on this Magic team, averaging 18.7 points per game.
And in case you missed it, Aaron Gordon nearly won the Slam Dunk Contest at the All-Star Break. Whether you believe he got robbed or not, some folks think the controversy surrounding that loss should push him to prove himself in these final games of the regular season. Gordon has battled injuries this season, which caused the occasional lackluster performance, and the man has failed to remain consistent, so fans are hoping this will be the boost he needs to help him really turn it on. The athletic star is exciting on defense and offense, though his 14.2 points per game haven’t matched his previous two seasons.
Nikola Vucevic has dealt with injuries as well this year, yet the center continues to put up a team-leading 19 points per game and 10.8 assists. No, he hasn’t looked quite as stellar as last year, and he didn’t reach All-Star status again this season, but he is still a huge contributor. Vucevic is part of the Magic’s core roster, and he’s even been able to improve his defense recently. They can’t win without him.
Fingers crossed, Markelle Fultz should also continue to improve. The former number-one draft pick was dropped last year by the Philadelphia Sixers, a team that seemed to forget about him while he dealt with thoracic outlet syndrome, a nerve condition that affected his shooting. Fultz was picked up by the Magic at the February 2019 trade deadline, and he’s gotten a lot better in Orlando, showing some flashes of brilliance early in the season. The young point guard is now contributing 11.9 points, 5 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.3 steals per game while shooting a career-best 46.3% from the field. In February, he’s scored double digits in nearly every game, including putting up 22 against the Detriot Pistons before the All-Star Break.
While the Magic are only three games ahead of the Washington Wizards, who are attempting to sneak in and steal that eighth seed, keep in mind that the Magic are also only two games away from the seventh seed Brooklyn Nets! Anything could happen.
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Obstacles and Areas for Improvement for the Magic
Some bad news? Jonathan Isaac is out for the remainder of the regular season with a knee injury he suffered at the start of January. Unfortunately for the Magic, the 22-year-old forward was definitely one of their best young players. That won’t help the Magic’s already suffering offense. Mo Bamba hasn’t been able to take over for Isaac on that front, although his defensive game is pretty solid.
When it comes to other key contributors, some of their players just need to step it up. For example, Terrence Ross was great off the bench last year, and he needs to get back to that level, particularly when it comes to his three-point shooting. It’s possible that they’ll even work in recent trade acquisition James Ennis to boost their ailing offense. Hopefully, the return of veteran DJ Augustin from injury will make the offense more efficient with his effective perimeter shooting and playmaking.
Finally, the Magic need to win some key games. Most importantly perhaps, they still have to play the Brooklyn Nets three more times this season, and considering it’s the Nets that sit in that oh-so-close seventh seed, these are crucial chances for the Magic to improve their position in the playoffs. It’s just too bad that Orlando has been pretty terrible against teams with winning records so far this season.
Lucky for the Magic, however, they do have the fourth-easiest remaining schedule in the league following the All-Star Break! Let’s see if they can take advantage!