Coming into this season, the Orlando believed they had a legitimate shot at the NBA playoffs. Through the first 14 games of this season, they are on target and earning passing grades.
Following Monday night’s 110-100 loss at Golden State, Orlando is 8-6, the 5th-best record in the Eastern Conference, with Wednesday’s game at Portland the last stop on the current swing through the Western Conference. They are three games into a 10-game stretch where they play 8 of those games on the road.
Monday’s game was tied at halftime, but the Warriors showed why they are defending NBA champs in the second half. Even with Stephen Curry missing the game with a minor ankle injury, the Warriors are still better than the rest of the league – especially at home.
At this point last year, the Magic were 6-8 and beginning a Thanksgiving slide that saw them lose three consecutive home games. They never recovered and went on to a 29-53 mark, finishing 12 games out of the final playoff spot.
As Thanksgiving approaches this year, the Magic have a pair of important games coming up at the Amway Center that they really need to win. On Saturday the 6-8 Utah Jazz come to town without a road win on the season.
On Monday, the offensive-minded, but defense-deficient Indiana Pacers make their first visit with former Magic star Victor Oladipo. The Magic players will be looking to get Coach Frank Vogel his first win against his former team.
After that, Orlando is back on the road for a brutal Thanksgiving trip that takes them to Minnesota, Boston, Philadelphia and Indiana.
It doesn’t get any easier when they return home. The Magic close out November and start December by hosting the star-studded Oklahoma City Thunder followed by a re-match with the Warriors.
“We can stay with (the Warriors) and we’ll see them in Orlando,” said forward Aaron Gordon.
This team has shown that it can play with the best, so there is every reason to believe they can weather the challenges before them – if injuries do not bite them. Their three worst games of the year were Saturday’s defeat in Denver, and earlier this month when they were blown out at home by the woeful Chicago Bulls and the surging Boston Celtics.
Point guards Elfrid Payton and D.J. Augustin missed all three of those games with hamstring injuries. Payton is now back to run the show, backed up by Shelvin Mack.
A healthy Magic team throttled both Cleveland on the road and San Antonio at home. A key to making the playoffs is finishing at or near .500 on the road. Orlando is currently 4-4.
Vogel noted that his team with tied at halftime with the Warriors “despite us not playing our best basketball.”
If the Magic are to make the playoff for the first time since 2012, when they lost to Vogel’s Pacers in 5 games, the next two weeks should provide a good indication. The good news is they are trying to make the postseason in the Eastern Conference, where .500 gets the job done.