A funny thing happened when the Orlando Magic took to the court to play the Portland Trail Blazers at home the other night. They actually won the game, beating Portland by 95-85. Yes the Trail Blazers had lost two straight coming into the game and were without talismanic forward LaMarcus Aldridge, but this was a game few thought the Magic could win. Win they did though, and in doing so may just have given their last 10 games before the season ends some meaning. With both eyes firmly on the draft it is a welcome distraction, as there is still some basketball to be played, even if the team would rather skip those games.
Before going any further, we need to talk about this whole tanking concept. There is no time to go into much detail here, but if even Orlando won their last 10 games and finished with a better record than a couple of other teams, it would really matter so little in determining who will get the first pick this summer. It is called a lottery for a reason, and only twice since the current weighted odds system came to fruition has the team with the best odds of getting the top picking actually managed to do so. Indeed, it seems every year since LeBron James left that the Cleveland Cavaliers have gotten to pick first or pretty to that, and they weren’t the worst team in the NBA every single one of those years. When the Magic snagged Shaquille O’Neal, too, they didn’t have the greatest chance of doing so. People who think the Magic should lose even more now “just to be sure they pick extremely high” shouldn’t be listened to. It is a negative approach that will not wield the results most hope that it will.
With that being said, the Magic can’t and won’t win every remaining game on their schedule, they’ll be lucky to crack five of the 10. If you take a look at the teams they are playing though, you realize that this team could have a bit of a say in how the Eastern Conference looks once the postseason begins. Two games against the Charlotte Bobcats (can we start calling them Hornets yet?), one against the Toronto Raptors and two against the Brooklyn Nets. That’s five of the 10 games, but wait there’s more. One game each against the Washington Wizards, Chicago Bulls and most intriguingly, Indiana Pacers. That’s eight games against teams who are all pretty much certain to be playoff bound, and who are angling for better positioning/home-court advantage/momentum heading into the postseason. A large chunk of these games come at home for the Magic too, so why not go out there and try to have a say in how the playoff match ups will turn out? Again there is nothing left to play for, yet when Orlando are playing well like they did against the Blazers, they are pretty fun to watch. They run basic enough offensive plays, but when they get the chance to get out and run it can be enjoyable to watch.
Another reason to keep on playing hard, is it allows players to grow now while the pressure is off. Against the Trail Blazers, forward Tobias Harris had 25 points and 11 rebounds and looked the best player on the court at times. The fourth quarter was when he was at his most potent as well, notching eight points in this period. This kind of game against a team who has it all to play for as the regular seasons comes to an end is exactly what this team needed. Going forward, they should be looking forward to the games against Eastern Conference opponents who will be playing with an almost playoff like intensity to win. Nikola Vucevic continued his double-double game with 22 points and 10 rebounds, causing trouble in the paint although failing to deal with opposing center Robin Lopez for much of the game too. Baby steps all of these things are, and ultimately losing the remaining 10 games doesn’t mean anything either, but that negative attitude is poison to a young and growing team.
How successful with the Orlando Magic be as a spoiler type of team? Probably not very, for this is still not a great team. Other organizations have much more meaningless snorefests to slog through though, whereas the Magic will be playing teams up for the fight most nights from now until the season’s end. The road trips are over, and the three road games remaining come against Eastern Conference teams. Those games will be especially tricky to navigate, but even if Orlando could pull out one road win against the likes of the Bulls or Nets, it would help greatly in this team’s growth. They’ve flown under the radar all year, but now for a brief moment this team can take center stage as they battle teams whose seasons can be defined. Question is though, how will this group of youngsters react to being painted the bad guy by opposing fans every night as they try to wreck others people’s playoff dreams?
Tags: Orlando Magic