Magic Limping Towards the Playoffs

The Orlando Magic have nine games left to play in the regular season, and barring a major collapse, will secure their first division title in 12 years. They will likely secure a home court advantage for the first round of the playoffs, and the team had eclipsed their win total of last season a couple weeks ago. That's the good news.

Unfortunately for the Magic, there is another side of the coin, and that other side shows them as losers of three of their last four games, and they found themselves playing without starters Hedo Turkoglu and Jameer Nelson for more than three quarters against the Spurs last night. Turkoglu went down with a sprained wrist, and Nelson has a hurt jaw from some "not so friendly fire" stemming from a Dwight Howard elbow.

Although the diagnosis on Turkoglu and Nelson's injuries shows no major damage and both are considered day-to-day, their absence on Tuesday night exposed how thin the Orlando bench really is, and that's no formula for any extended playoff success.

The Magic have been an up and down team for much of the year, as they began the season 16-4, then lost 12 of their next 19 games before winning 8 of their next 10 and so on and so forth. During those particular streaks, Orlando has shot the ball well for the most part, but were losing games due to poor defense, or lack of effort.

"The better teams we'll see in the playoffs are more physical. And we have to match those things," said head coach Stan Van Gundy.

During this latest losing streak, Orlando's shooting has been more unpredictable that the Central Florida weather. Despite an offensive explosion against the Philadelphia 76ers last Friday night in which they scored 113 points, the Magic have averaged just 96 points per game, which is nearly 10 points under their season average entering last week. Orlando has shot 43.4% over this stretch which ranks them 29th in the NBA.

There's no easy reason for the Magic's sudden offensive ineptitude, as aside from San Antonio, they have played mediocre defensive teams. When the team has normally gone into offensive funks this season, it was mostly due to them falling in love with the outside shot, but ironically, the team has hit a nearly 44% of their threes during this particular stretch, and that shot has been single handedly keeping them in games.

Orlando currently holds an 8.5 game lead over second place Washington, with 9 games to play. The Magic hold a 5 game lead over Cleveland, and it is more than likely that Orlando will hold on to the third seed in the Eastern Conference. Although the standings show the Magic as one of the best teams East of the Mississippi, they will likely have to shoot their way through the playoffs in a much more intense defensive atmosphere, against better defenses who will have much more playoff experience. This recent trend of missed shots raises a lot of questions of whether or not Orlando will be up to the task.