Home sweet home
With a record-setting 149-113 thrashing of the Atlanta Hawks in the regular season home finale, the Orlando Magic extended their winning streak inside the Amway Center to nine games on Friday night. They used a franchise record 81 first half points and finished with an Amway Center record 149.
The Magic also earned their 40th win, a benchmark that hasn’t been reached since winning 52 games in 2010-2011.
The Playoff push
More importantly, the Magic are waking up Saturday morning as the #6 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race. They last made the playoffs in 2011-2012, when then head coach Stan Van Gundy and Dwight Howard were amidst a public fallout that lead to the team’s embarrassing 4-1 series loss in round one to the Indiana Pacers. What has transpired since is well documented.
Now, under head coach Steve Clifford, who was an assistant under Van Gundy, in Orlando, the 2018-2019 team is turning heads. They’ve done so by executing what Clifford is preaching.
Since February, the Magic rank first in the NBA in total team defense. They’ve done so despite Mo Bamba, the sixth pick in last year’s Draft, missing significant time with an injury.
Ironically, it has been the team’s sixth man, Terrence Ross, who should be credited for the team’s unbelievable turn around. Ross, who has played in all 79 games this season, poured in 25 against Atlanta on Friday night. He has scored 25 or more off the bench in eight different games this season. A virtuoso lock for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year, Ross is averaging a career-high 14.7 points per game in just 26.5 minutes.
Power of positivity
It’s been a seven-year long lull of lackadaisical results for the Magic. They’re now just one win from securing one of three final playoff spots. Center Nik Vucevic, who has been with the team throughout the playoff drought, said it best following Friday’s victory:
“You just feel a positive vibe around the organization right now and I think we’re feeding off it and playing great. We know we’re playing for something big. It’s been a lot of fun and I think we’ve really embraced it.”
Second year forward Jonathan Isaac described how Clifford is explaining the importance of the fans support:
“(Clifford) has definitely talked about this city and what it means to have this city behind us and it’s brought an ego to us about playing at home and wanting our fans to be proud of us, wanting our fans to come out to home games and be excited about us winning.” Isaac explained.
So, Orlando, it’s time to do just that. Dust off your ‘We Believe’ signs. Blow up your thunder sticks. Locate your old car magnet. Grab your Horace Grant goggles and begin to embrace the euphoria of playoff basketball that could soon be coming your way.
Blue & White? Damn right.