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Via John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com:
The Southeast Division all theirs and the Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics no longer a concern in the standings, the Orlando Magic now have their sights set on trying to catch the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Magic clinched their third consecutive Southeast Division title Tuesday night when the Hawks lost to the Charlotte Bobcats. It also guarantees that the Magic (54-23) will enter the playoffs as the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.
If the playoffs started today, the Magic would face the seventh-seeded Charlotte Bobcats (41-36). The Michael Jordan-owned Bobcats are two games back of Miami (43-34) for sixth and three games ahead of Toronto (38-39) in eighth. The Magic are 3-1 against Charlotte this season.
Another division title is nice and the Orlando Magic should be commended for becoming Southeast Division champions for a third straight year, especially with the Atlanta Hawks on their heels for the majority of the regular season. But it can’t be understated how important it was for the Magic to enter the postseason with the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference so that they didn’t have to run the gauntlet, meaning not having home-court advantage against either the Cleveland Cavaliers or the Boston Celtics in a seven-game series, for a second consecutive season in hopes of making a return trip to the NBA Finals.
Additionally, the fact that it’s looking more and more like the Charlotte Bobcats — not the Miami Heat — will be Orlando’s likely first round opponent, the bracket is shaping up nicely for the Magic. Now, the Bobcats will be a challenge but the Heat would have been a nightmare. Especially with Dwyane Wade presenting himself as the ultimate wildcard, a player that can win a series by himself. So, barring something weird happening, Orlando dodges a bullet there.
One last thing to look out for in the East is the race for the No. 3 seed between the Hawks and the Celtics. The Magic are a combined 6-2 against Atlanta and Boston, but there’s no doubt that Orlando has a preference between the two teams. And that’s the Hawks, a team that doesn’t matchup well with the Magic. In contrast, for all their consternation, the Celtics still pose as a threat.
Nevertheless, it should be interesting to see how things pan out before the playoffs start.