Whoever thought that some of the sizzle would leave South Beach when LeBron James shipped it up to Cleveland was sorely mistaken. True, the Miami Heat are no longer viewed as an Eastern Conference powerhouse, and they don’t appear to show up on nationally-televised games nearly as often anymore, but they’re still a popular team.
With Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Goran Dragic in stow — not to mention Luol Deng and Hassan Whiteside — the Heat are clearly the more dominant of the two Florida teams. They demand more headlines and let’s face it, they are a better basketball team than the Orlando Magic. With that being said, while Miami entered play Wednesday at 21-13 — good for third-best in the extremely tight East — Orlando sits just 2.5 games behind their in-state rivals at 19-16.
The Magic’s record ties them with the Detroit Pistons for the eighth spot, just barely out of the playoff picture. With an extremely young core and a 27-year resume that isn’t pretty, plenty of basketball aficionados have good reason to doubt the Magic’s playoff chances this year. However, we’re here to explain why the skeptics are wrong. Here’s why the Magic will make the postseason this year.
First, let’s break down the Orlando roster and their style of play, before moving on to their main competition in the conference. The typical starting five for Scott Skiles’ bunch include Elfrid Payton at point guard, Victor Oladipo at the two, Evan Fournier or Tobias Harris at small forward, Harris or Channing Frye at the four, and Nikola Vucevic at center. The starting unit is youthful but powerful, and bench players like Aaron Gordon, Andrew Nicholson, and Shabazz Napier represent plenty of promise.
It’s well-known that the Magic are among the younger groups in the NBA. Their average player age of just 24 years old ties them for second-youngest in the association. What Orlando may lack in experience, they more than make up for in talent, size, and defensive intensity. Vucevic is a double-double machine, Harris is one of the more underrated players in the league, and the Payton/Oladipo duo in the backcourt is one that could shine for many years at the Amway Center.
While the Magic are in the middle of the pack (18th) in offensive rating, their defense is an impressive ninth (and seventh in the Eastern Conference) at 103.8. It’s no coincidence that the eight teams ahead of the Magic in defensive rating would all be in the playoffs if the season ended today. It’s true that at this point, Orlando doesn’t have a truly dominant player — although Oladipo has the potential to get there. That alone will limit this roster’s success. But when compared with their likely competition for the last two playoff spots in the East, the Magic are better equipped to have a strong second half.
For the sake of this article, let’s separate the top six teams in the East and put them as strong bets for making the playoffs. That list would include the Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, Heat, Toronto Raptors, Atlanta Hawks, and Indiana Pacers. For the seventh and eighth seeds, the Magic look to be battling, right now, the Boston Celtics (19-15), Pistons (19-16), and Charlotte Hornets (17-17). As of now, we estimate that the Celtics and Magic will secure those last two positions. While Detroit has experienced a nice story so far, we don’t see Andre Drummond being able to carry them alone.
Charlotte, on the other hand, lost Al Jefferson for the foreseeable future and may struggle to stay in the race during his absence. A playoff berth for the Magic would almost surely result in a matchup with the No. 1 or No. 2 seed as well as a quick postseason exit, but it’s an appearance nonetheless. And we wouldn’t be shocked at all to see Orlando build on this season to be even better in the 2016-17 campaign.
Follow Victor on Twitter @vbarbosa1127