This postseason is somewhat of an anomaly for the Orlando Magic. It had been six years since the Magic played beyond the regular season and hope to shock the world with a deep playoff run.
Led by first-time All-Star Nikola Vucevic who is having a career year, the Magic have gone on to finish the last 13 games of the season with an 11-2 record. Assisted by the efforts from Aaron Gordon with 16 points per game, and the Sixth Man of the Year candidate Terrance Ross with 15.1 points per game, Orlando should be slept on by no team out in the Eastern Conference.
Although they will be without rookie Mo Bamba for the postseason, they still have another front-court first-round pick to lean on with Jonathan Isaac who has managed to average 9.6 points per game and 1.3 blocks per game.
Rounding out a solid and underrated bunch is guard Evan Fournier who has seen his scoring evolve this year. Not only is he averaging career-highs in assists with 3.9, but in the past five games for the Magic, he has managed to average 20.6 points per game on an efficient 53.9 percent shooting. Given the success of longtime veteran D.J. Augustin paired with Fournier and Ross, the Magic have a hefty amount of firepower at the guard position.
After being in the race for a playoff position up until the last week of the regular season, the Magic were able to catch fire and lock up the seven seed and a series of dates with the Toronto Raptors.
The Magic and Raptors have split the season series 2-2, with one of those games being a 29-point victory for the Magic and the largest margin of defeat the Raptors suffered all season.
With the leadership of newcomer Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors are not only favored in this series but possibly in the entire Eastern Conference. However, the Magic have proven in past years to be a dangerous post-season team.
There are several factors the Magic can exploit against the Raptors to pull off a first-round upset. The dominance of Vucevic and limitation of Leonard’s effectiveness will prove to be key:
- Vucevic averaged a double-double in the four games versus the Raptors with 20 points and 15.7 rebounds.
- Leonard only played in three of the four games versus the Magic, with his highest scoring output being just 21 points in the blowout loss on December 28th.
We must not forget that the Raptors have been one of the more inconsistent teams in the playoffs for the past couple years. That’s part of the reason why Toronto opted to swap the two stars in Leonard and DeMar DeRozan. Although the go-to guy is different, the pressure to get to the NBA Finals after all the previous failed seasons, could possibly way too heavily on Toronto.
Game 1: @Toronto – Saturday, 4/13 – 5:00 PM
Game 2: @Toronto – Tuesday, 4/16 – 8:00 PM
Game 3: @Orlando – Friday, 4/19 – 7:00 PM
Game 4: @Orlando- Sunday, 4/21 – 7:00 PM
Game 5 (if needed): – Tuesday, 4/23 – TBD
Game 6 (if needed): – Thursday 4/25 – TBD
Game 7 (if needed): Saturday 4/27 – TBD
*times in EST
How they can succeed?
Although the Raptors have one of the best overall rosters in the NBA, if the Magic can get past them, then the future rounds will pale in comparison to what the Raptors threw at them. Assuming an upset occurs over the Raptors, the Magic will potentially take on the 76ers in the second round. Then in the Eastern Conference Finals, if the Bucks live up to the expectations of being the one-seed, they will be the next opponent.
In order to get past this round and the future rounds, Nikola Vucevic must be the leader on a nightly basis. As he goes, so do the Magic. He is third in the league in double-doubles with 60, whereas the Raptors leader in double-doubles is Serge Ibaka with 22.
The Magic also need to rely on their starters for a good portion of the game. They cannot rely on their bench to get a lot of scoring outside of Ross. The next highest scorer off the bench is Jonathan Simmons with 6.9 points per game. Orlando ranks 19th in the NBA in bench scoring and 27th in bench field goal percentage.
With all of their starters (except for Isaac with 9.6 points per game) averaging double figures in points and essentially taking up a large chunk of their scoring, they can ill-afford to miss out on any of them scoring.
The margin for error for the Magic to pull off the upset is microscopic. They must receive big production from everybody that checks into the game.
Who is their X-Factor?
One of the more underrated and underappreciated players in the league is Aaron Gordon. Known best for his performance in the 2016 Slam Dunk Contest, Gordon has since developed his game and has become as versatile a player there is in the NBA. Much like Blake Griffin evolved his game over the years, Gordon has done the same.
Although he is averaging slightly fewer points this year compared to last, his efficiency and ability to facilitate at a higher rate has turned him into a true X-factor. Gordon is shooting a career-best 34.9 percent from beyond the arc. He is another weapon the Magic can use on the perimeter.
Gordon will want to redeem himself from his perfomances against the Raptors this season. He averaged just 9.5 points per game and only scored six in their last matchup just under two weeks ago.
One stat in their favor
Turnovers. Taking care of the ball might sound simple but for some teams it can be difficult and ultimately their downfall. Since the All-Star break, the Raptors are the 8th worst team at taking care of the ball with 14.3 turnovers per game. Meanwhile, the Magic are the eight best team at taking care of the ball only giving up 12.5 turnovers per game since the All-Star break.
While it may be a small advantage that Orlando has over the Raptors, the Raptors have shown dominance this season on the defensive end. This makes it vital for Orlando to force turnovers and get easy baskets whenever possible.
The odds are stacked up against the Magic and almost nobody is giving them a shot at getting into the Eastern Conference semi-finals. The Magic are playing with house money and can in turn play loose and free with no pressure and expectation that they will win. Crazier things have happened in the NBA postseason.