Welcome to the Orlando Sports Weekly Rundown, I'm David Baumann. And I can't believe I'm about to say what I'm going to say...
I EXPECT THE ORLANDO MAGIC TO MAKE THE PLAYOFFS.
1st-year Magic head coach Steve Clifford now flat out says, "Our goal is to make the playoffs."
After a seven-year hiatus, I anticipate the Magic will have enough firepower to blast their way into the postseason for the first time since the days of Dwight Howard.
They're one of the hottest teams in the league, winners in 5-straight games, and 7 of the last 8.
Sitting just 0.5 game out of the 8th and final playoff spot in the East, the Magic have one of the NBA's third easiest remaining schedules, based on opponent's win percentage, according to Tankathon.
With 23 games left to play in the regular season, 15 of those games come against teams with losing records.
I predict Orlando goes 14-9 down the backstretch, finishing at 41-41, good enough for a playoff berth.
Achieving a postseason spot would be a major achievement for this relatively new front office of John Hammond and Jeff Weltman.
It'll provide a sense of accomplishment for first-time All-Star Nikola Vucevic and veteran Evan Fournier, guys who've been through much of the bad times together (losing records, coaching changes, front office firings) over the past few years.
And boy, would a trip to the playoffs be incredibly valuable to this young nucleus of players like Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac.
Now, we're not sure whether we'll see 7' rookie Mo Bamba (injured - stress fracture lower left leg) or the newly acquired former #1 pick of the 2017 NBA Draft, Markelle Fultz (injured - shoulder).
Regardless whether those guys play or not (and I can't wait to see Fultz play!), doesn't impact my belief that this team has what it takes to get to the playoffs.
In fact, they've proven they can beat anybody in the East.
They've already got wins over every team in the Top 8: Milwaukee, Toronto, Indiana, Philadelphia, Boston, Brooklyn, Charlotte and Detroit.
However, the Magic have also shown that they can lose to anyone too... including losses to sub-.500 teams Chicago, Phoenix and Minnesota.
So there can't be any letdowns from here on out.
Defense will be key.
Not known as an offensive juggernaut by any stretch, the Magic's DEFENSE is what's been their strength.
The Magic have cracked the Top 10 in many defensive categories:
- 6th in points allowed (106.9 PPG)
- 7th in blocked shots (5.6 blocks per game)
- 9th in defensive efficiency (1.051)
- 10th in defensive floor % (48.7%)
- 10th in opponent FG% (45.5%)
All-in-all, the Magic have a very good thing going right now.
It's certainly possibly the All-Star break messes with the team's mojo and throws them for a loop. But we'll see if that's the case.
My bet is they'll tread water over the next 6-7 games and go either 3-4, or 4-3... But then, I think they've got a chance to rip off another lengthy win streak starting with the Maverick game at home on March 8. Including that game, I can see the Magic winning seven straight games.
But first things first...
Up next: The Magic host the Chicago Bulls on tonight at 7 pm.
David Baumann is a Sports Columnist for 407area.com. You can see him Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 10:30 pm on Spectrum Sports 360's Face Off segment on Spectrum channel 13. You can hear him Tuesdays from 7-9pm on EK Sports, 96.9 The Game.