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Analysis: Is the play-in tournament still realistic for the Magic?

When it comes to trying to qualify for the NBA’s play-in tournament, the Orlando Magic have been caught in a holding pattern.

The Magic (28-40) enter Tuesday’s matchup at San Antonio (17-50) at 13th in the Eastern Conference standings — a spot they’ve been stuck at since the beginning of 2023. Having missed out on opportunities to close the gap is part of the reason they’re multiple games back in the play-in race.

Seeds 7-10 in each conference compete in the play-in tournament for the Nos. 7 and 8 seeds in the playoffs.

Entering Jan. 1, the Magic were 13-24 and:

  • 4½ games behind Atlanta for the No. 9 spot
  • 3½ games behind Chicago for No. 10
  • 3½ games behind Toronto for No. 11
  • 3 games behind Washington for No. 12.

At the All-Star break, they were 24-35 and:

  • 4½ games behind Washington for No. 9
  • 4 games behind Toronto for No. 10
  • 2 games behind Chicago for No. 11
  • 1½ games behind Indiana for No. 12.

Tuesday they were:

  • 4 games behind Toronto for No. 9
  • 3½ games behind Chicago for No. 10
  • 3 games behind Washington for No. 11.
  • 2 1/2 games behind Indiana for No. 12.

Why haven’t the Magic made a jump in the standings? Is there enough time for them to make up ground and qualify for the tournament?

Before the Magic take on the Spurs, here’s an analysis of what’s happened and what will likely need to happen over the final 14 games:

Magic missing winning run

The Magic not putting together a winning run of significance over the last 2½ months has led to them staying at 13th.

They’ve gone 15-16 since 2023 started — the same record as Chicago and Washington during that stretch.

Only Toronto (16-16) has had a better record since the start of the year among the teams the Magic are chasing. Indiana has gone 11-20 in 2023. The Pacers went 1-9 while All-Star guard Tyrese Haliburton was sidelined for 2½ weeks.

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The Magic haven’t gone on a winning streak of longer than two games since mid-December when they won six straight. They went through a month-long pattern of “win one, lose one” — which ended this past week when they lost three straight while starting center Wendell Carter Jr. was sidelined because of hip pain.

Going 1-3 last week was a missed opportunity, especially with Washington (1-3 last week) and Toronto (0-3) struggling at the same time.

Carter’s absence had a clear impact on last week’s defensive troubles.

But even before last week, there were other missed opportunities. The home loss to the Pacers where the Magic’s defense didn’t play up to their standard stands out.

Playing with better consistency is a lesson the Magic, like most young teams, are learning.

The Magic are 23-21 since Dec. 5. Having a record of around .500 is growth for an Orlando team that went 22-60 last season and started the year 5-19. But not going on another winning run has hurt them.

What the Magic will likely need

Making a jump in the standings won’t be easy, especially with most teams having 14 or 15 games remaining.

Atlanta, Chicago, Washington and Toronto are on pace to win 37 to 39 games. To break the 38-win mark, the Magic will need to go at least 10-4.

The Wizards are the only team the Magic will play down the stretch, with matchups on March 21 in Orlando and March 31 in Washington.

The Magic haven’t gone on a stretch this season where they won at least 71.4% of their games across a 14-game sample. Their best 14-game stretch happened from Dec. 7-Jan. 5, when they went 9-5.

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The mountain in front of the Magic isn’t impossible to climb.

But their margin for error is slimmer than it was a couple of weeks ago.

Play-in or draft position?

The Magic have made it clear they’re going to keep pushing for a spot in the play-in — the right direction to go in.

The most important thing during this final stretch is for Orlando, one of the league’s youngest teams, to gain more experience playing in meaningful games that have consequences.

They’re also too far ahead of the teams below them in the standings to fall in with them in the battle for better odds at a higher draft pick.

It’s evident the Magic have grown in how they handle pressured-filled late-game situations.

Saturday’s overtime home win over Miami was a good example. They lost to the Heat in a similar situation in overtime last month at Amway Center.

The Magic’s younger players need to continue to play in environments and situations.

“I can give a longer dissertation about that,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Anytime you have games that have meaning, context [and] consequences where you have to learn how to play winning basketball, I think is good for any young team — where you’re not gifted minutes that don’t mean anything.

“It’s not about stats. It’s not about shots. It’s not about much you score. It’s about finding a way to win the game. From that standpoint, you only learn that when the games have that kind of meaning.”

This article first appeared on Email Khobi Price at or follow him on Twitter at @khobi_price.


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