Tuck: Orlando Magic In Playoff Picture

If the Orlando Magic want in the playoffs, they’ll have a chance to make it this season.  Never thought I’d be saying that.  But like every season, there are strange and unexpected events that happen to change the landscape.  This season has been no different.

Now, let’s not get crazy here.  The Magic are 11-13.  We are slightly more than a quarter of our way through the season and they are under .500 still and although they’ve had some impressive wins, they have also had more losses.  But, they are in chase nonetheless, just 1.5 games back of the 8th spot in the East.

So how is a team many picked to win less than 20 games, including myself, more than halfway to that total already?

First of all, injuries on other rosters have effected those teams and caused them to struggle.  Indiana (13-11), Chicago (13-10), and Philadelphia (12-12) haven’t had their best players play for them this season.  That has brought them back to the bottom of  the playoff standings.  Toronto (6-19), Cleveland (5-20), and Washington (3-18) have also been without their best players causing any hope of challenging for a playoff spot to fizzle.

That leaves just Detroit (7-20) and Charlotte (7-16) as Eastern Conference lottery teams playing to about what you would have projected, although I’d say the Bobcats have exceeded expectations (but they have dropped 11 in a row now on their way to perhaps meeting them).

Secondly, 7 of the Magic’s 11 wins have come against teams below them in the standings.  Also 11 of their 13 losses have come against teams with better records than them.  So Orlando, for the most part, is winning games it can, and losing the ones you’d expect them to.

Finally, the NBA’s middle class is bigger than usual to this point.  15, or half, of the NBA’s 30 teams are within 3 games of .500 on either side to this point.  In a league that is often thought of as the haves and the have nots, to this point is looks more like the NFL or MLB.

I am surprised Orlando is doing as well as they are.  If I was just guessing, I probably would have had the Magic with 6 or 7 wins at this juncture.  They are playing better than I would have anticipated regardless of their record.  Obviously there is a huge question with respect to their season however:

What does GM Rob Hennigan do as we advance towards the trade deadline?  I absolutely factored in trades depleting the roster and hurting their win total this year.  If they are close to being a playoff team will that have any influence?

I wouldn’t think so, but there is no track record to tell what might happen.  I don’t think they are a playoff team if they stand pat, but would Hennigan ever consider making a move to make them one?

Instead of unloading JJ Redick, Al Harrington, Jameer Nelson, or Glen Davis, could they actually make a bold move to improve ahead of free agency and the draft?  Seems doubtful, but the idea is to build into a championship team and if an opportunity exists, I believe Hennigan will grab it.

I don’t think standing idly by is an option for Orlando.  Losing someone like JJ Redick in free agency for nothing next summer or overpaying next year to keep him would be a bad idea so a decision will need to be made in February.  If the Magic continue to hover around .500, one must wonder if the decision won’t be to subtract, but instead to add.