Now, fast forward to this season, and the [Orlando] Magic are an equally driven team as evidenced by the recent five-game winning streak and a gusty overtime effort against New York on Monday even though they were down to just six available players by the final horn.
But the harsh reality for the Magic (47-27) with eight games to play is that they are locked into the Eastern Conference’s fourth seed most likely incapable of moving up or down. Orlando is 4 ½ games back of third-seeded Miami and a comfortable five games ahead of fifth-seeded Atlanta (42-32). Dead ahead is a first-round showdown against the Hawks, Wednesday night’s opponent at Philips Arena.
So unlike last season, there is little for the Magic to push for down the stretch other than personal pride and a desire to hit the playoffs with a hot hand. Hard-driving Magic coach Stan Van Gundy doesn’t find the scenario ideal, but considering the state of the Magic’s injury-riddled roster right now, he said his team will make the best of the final two weeks of the regular season. [...]
The Magic should have [Jameer] Nelson and [Quentin] Richardson back for Wednesday’s game in Atlanta. Both were up and down off the Magic bench most of Monday night, cheering on Orlando’s effort and interacting with Madison Square Garden’s trash talkers in the crowd. Both could have played had the game been a playoff battle.
The case for [J.J.] Redick and [Chris] Duhon is trickier. Redick, Orlando’s best bench player all season, has missed nine games and could be looking at another two weeks of inactivity before returning, Van Gundy hinted. Duhon was unable to squeeze a towel at halftime Monday night and fears he might have suffered ligament damage in his thumb. Further tests should confirm or deny that by Wednesday’s tipoff.
With motivation in short supply down the stretch, the Magic will seek it out wherever they can find it. Wednesday it will come in the form of a first-round playoff preview against the Hawks. The Magic are just 1-2 against the Hawks this season, a direct contrast to last spring when Orlando swept Atlanta in the most lopsided four-game series in playoff history. [...]
As for Wednesday’s game, Howard said it’s never too early to send a message to a team that the Magic will most likely see in the first round of the playoffs.
Say hello to a preview of a first round matchup in the 2011 NBA Playoffs between the Orlando Magic and Atlanta Hawks. Sort of. Even though Quentin Richardson and Jameer Nelson are slated to return from their injuries later tonight, the Magic are still dealing with the absences of J.J. Redick and Chris Duhon. When Orlando is at full-strength, only Redick figures to see minutes in the postseason coming off the bench. As such, the Magic will get a decent idea of how they matchup with the Hawks even though they’re missing their top back-up wing player.