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 to set the pace. They finished with an Amway Center record 149 points.
They also earned their 40th win of the season, a benchmark that has not been reached since winning 52 games in 2010-2011.
More importantly, and with a little help from other teams around the league, 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 the first round to the Indiana Pacers. What has transpired since then is well documented.
Now, under head coach Steve Clifford, who was an assistant coach under Van Gundy back then, the 2018-2019 Orlando Magic are 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 accomplished that despite missing the #6 pick in last year’s NBA Draft, Mo Bamba – who was drafted to help improve the defense.
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 so far this season, poured in 25 against Atlanta on Friday night and has now 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.
It’s been a seven-year long lull of lackadaisical results for the Magic, who are just one more win from securing one of the final three spots in the playoffs. Center Nik Vucevic, who has been with the organization for the entirety of 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 and Florida native, Jonathan Isaac, described how Steve Clifford, who saw how the team benefited from success first hand all those years ago, is explaining the importance of the fans support as part of this meteoric rise:
“(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 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.