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On Wednesday, the Celtics defeated the Magic, 109-92. With the loss, Orlando conceded ninth place in the Eastern Conference to Boston and dropped to 10-18 on the season (two games back of Brooklyn for the No. 8 seed), an underwhelming start to the 2014-15 campaign. Still, there are reasons for Magic fans to remain optimistic about the team’s playoff aspirations.
It starts with the Magic’s injury luck. Victor Oladipo (facial fracture), Kyle O’Quinn (left ankle sprain), and Nikola Vucevic (lower back sprain) have combined to miss 30 games due to their respective injuries.
In addition, Aaron Gordon, the No. 4 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, was ruled out indefinitely just 11 games into the season due to a fractured fifth metatarsal in his left foot — though he may return before or just after the All-Star break.
Only in recent games, since Vucevic returned from his back injury to start against the Hawks on Saturday, has Orlando been completely healthy sans Gordon.
The injury bug isn’t the only thing that’s afflicted the Magic. They’ve faced the ninth-toughest schedule to start the regular season — 19 of their first 28 games have been on the road, by far the most of any team in the league during that stretch (the Bucks are second with 16 road games).
The good news for Orlando is the opportunity is there to make up ground in the East over the next few weeks.
Starting tonight, the Magic will enjoy their first extended homestand of the season, a four-game stint against the Jazz, Sixers, Celtics, and Cavaliers. It’s the first time Orlando will play back-to-back home games since October 30 and November 1.
Going 3-1, or even 4-0 if the stars align, would indicate the Magic could legitimately emerge as a postseason threat in the Eastern Conference. They’ve already defeated Utah and Philadelphia this season. Moreover, the C’s just traded Rajon Rondo — their best player — to the Mavericks and won’t have much time to get their new players up to speed before a rematch at Amway Center on Tuesday.
Spearheaded by LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving, defeating Cleveland will be no easy feat, but Orlando has three days between games to prepare for one of the East’s best clubs.
After the Magic’s meeting with the Cavs, they’ll have two consecutive road games — against the Hornets and Heat with a day off in-between — before they return for a three-game homestand against the Pistons, Nets, and Hornets (again).
All in all, Orlando is scheduled to play seven of the next nine games at home.
Thus far, because of injuries and a brutal road-heavy schedule, the Magic have yet to really perform as if they deserve a playoff spot — they currently rank 28th in Offensive Rating and 18th in Defensive Rating with a -6.0 efficiency differential. And they’ll remain on the outside looking in at the Eastern Conference postseason picture if they don’t improve.
Orlando needs to get better, and fast. Time will tell if that’s going to happen, but we’re going to find out soon. Things will start to get easier for the Magic, but they’ll have to play better than they have up to this point in order to take advantage of good health and a less-daunting schedule if they want to be legitimate playoff contenders.