There have certainly been surprises in the NBA this season.
The Sacramento Kings have flirted with a playoff spot in the Western Conference after 12 straight losing seasons. The Brooklyn Nets, left for dead after their infamous 2013 trade with the Celtics, will likely make the postseason behind All-Star D’Angelo Russell, who was left for dead after a slow start to his career in Los Angeles.
Even the Denver Nuggets coming on strong to contend with the Warriors for the top spot in the West was a shock to many.
But there really hasn’t been as remarkable a Cinderella story – in a league without much real parity – as the Orlando Magic.
Orlando Magic Winning Streak Hits Six
There isn’t a hotter team in the Eastern Conference, and after massive victories on consecutive nights they’ve now won six straight games, are nearing .500 and are contending for the unlikeliest of playoff berths as the regular season nears an end.
Their most recent victories were their most impressive and most critical. Though they were two-point favorites on Monday, beating the Philadelphia 76ers still felt monumental. That was especially true considering Orlando had to turn around 24 hours later and square off against the Miami Heat, one of the teams the Magic are batting for the final East playoff spot.
Tuesday night, All-Star Nikola Vucevic had 24 points, 16 rebounds and 5 assists to earn a critical 104-99 victory. The win bumped the Magic up to eighth place in the East, half a game better than Miami. And Orlando owns a critical tiebreaker over the Heat, having won the season series 3-1.
Orlando Was a Preseason NBA Longshot
At the outset of the season, oddsmakers set the Magic’s over-under win total at 30.5, with only Atlanta and Chicago trailing them in the East. It made sense, too.
Orlando hadn’t done much in the offseason except add a project in Mo Bamba in the Draft, and the Magic had topped 30 wins in a season once since 2012. There was no reason this team should have been considered a playoff contender, even in an incredibly weak Southeast Division.
And yet here the Magic are, creeping toward .500 and looking like a playoff team. Their six-game win streak is Orlando’s longest since the 2010-11 season, when a team featuring Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkoglu and Jameer Nelson won nine straight games.
This marks the first time in franchise history that Orlando has swept a homestand of 5-or-more games. The Magic went a perfect 5-0.— Orlando Magic PR (@Magic_PR) March 26, 2019
Orlando has now won 7 straight home games for the first time since Dec. 23, 2010-Jan. 8, 2011, where the Magic won 8 straight.#PureMagic
Vucevic has really turned up since the All-Star break, averaging 21.9 points and 12.4 rebounds. Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross have made up a formidable supporting cast that has Orlando ranked third in the NBA in net rating since Jan. 31, behind only the Utah Jazz and Milwaukee Bucks.
That, of course, means that over the last two months they’ve been better than the Rockets, Raptors, Nuggets, Sixers and Warriors.
Defense a Crucial Component for Magic
They’ve got solid offensive contributors, but defense is truly winning for Orlando. Since Jan. 31, the Magic are 17-7 and have the NBA’s best defense by two points per 100 possessions. And in a league as dependent on 3-point shots as it ever has been, Orlando is defending the arc better than any team in that span, according to an NBA.com story.
On Monday the Sixers were just 6 of 23 (26.1 percent) from beyond the arc, well short of their 36 percent clip on the season. The Magic were 10 of 33 (30.3 percent) a far cry from their 35.4 percent 3-point shooting this season.
They’ll look to continue this magical – one last awful pun – run on Thursday against the Detroit Pistons. After a similar hot stretch to what the Magic are currently doing, Detroit has lost six of nine and now lead Orlando by just half a game for seventh in the East.
This one has significant playoff implications but Orlando has aced its first two tests in beating fellow playoff foes in Philadelphia and Miami. They’re a good bet to keep it going against Detroit, who will be coming back from a five-game road trip in which they went 1-4.
New Favorite in NBA’s Southeast Division
Orlando’s recent hot stretch makes it the new NBA betting favorite in the Southeast. Though it has been a division defined by mediocrity all season, the Magic’s red-hot run has given it some legitimacy. Here’s how the division stands with two weeks to go:
Miami has one more game remaining than the Magic, but again Orlando has the tiebreaker. And both teams’ schedules are similar: Orlando’s strength of schedule remaining is 17th toughest with an average win percentage of .488; Miami has the 15th toughest schedule with a .505 win percentage.
Orlando’s defense, and the fact that it has the tiebreaker, makes it the favorite for a reason.