2012. The last year the Orlando Magic qualified for the NBA Playoffs. The Indiana Pacers completed the “gentleman’s sweep” of the Magic behind Darren Collison’s 19 points off the bench in Game 5. That playoff series loss was the start of the “rebuild” in the post-Dwight era. Five head coaches (yes, James Borrego counts in my book!), a plethora of talent being drafted and shipped away, and many losses later, the Magic are finally heading back to the postseason.
I am always overly confident in the Magic. You call it a fault, I call it believing in something.
“This is the year. On paper, we have the tools to make a run!” – something I would say after winning the first game of the season, then not even eclipsing 30 wins by the end of the year.
Going into this season I was more cautious. I kept a lot of my opinions to myself. I was very critical of Jonathan Simmons, who was traded in February for Markelle Fultz. I was not impressed with Jonathan Isaac’s start to the season. Coming off an injury-plagued rookie season, I expected a monster start. Instead, his explosion didn’t come until after the All-Star break, and his timing could not have been better. Speaking of All-Stars, Nikola Vucevic earned his first trip to the game this season, deservedly so. And how could I forget the Human Torch, a.k.a. Terrance Ross, who should definitely be in the talks for sixth man of the year! All of this plus strong contributions from role players such as Wes Iwundu, Khem Birch, and new-addition Michael Carter-Williams sparked this incredible run.
Steve Clifford, who was fired from Charlotte last season after he struggled with health issues, should be commended for his smart coaching. Instead of forcing lineups that didn’t work, he used trial-and-error to determine what moves to make. “Experts” before the season said our front-court was going to be dominated by Aaron Gordon and rookie Mo Bamba. How about Vucevic and Isaac running the show instead? Gordon slid in the 3, and DJ ran the point with Fournier playing the 2. Bringing Iwundu off the bench to relieve Gordon proved to be a winning move, as Gordon flourished with the second unit as the first starter to come back in. Frank Vogel, the previous coach of the Magic, seemed fixated on forcing people to stay in roles that weren’t fitting, with most notably having Terrance Ross start. Even though he played in just 24 games due to injury, it was evident he could not find his footing as a starter. This season, Ross has started exactly zero games and has been the leader of the second unit. Takes me back to the old days of Pietrus…
This season has been vastly better than the past seven seasons, we know that. Many achievements from this year will be overshadowed in the future due to their actual insignificance in the big picture, but they certainly mean a lot now. Orlando scored the third most points in franchise history against Atlanta two nights ago (149). They also scored the most points in a half (82) in that game as well. A nine-game home win streak to end the season is the first win streak of that length since the 2008-09 season, where they won eleven in a row. Nikola Vucevic passed Shaquille O’Neal for third on the all-time scoring list. A perfect 5-0 record in March marked the first time Orlando swept a homestand of five-or-more games. The other night we did two things that will be overlooked: swept the season series (3-0) against the Celtics for the first time since the 90’s and also won the Southeast division for the first time since the 2008-09 season. I could go on, but you get the idea.
Whether it was just superior coaching and good health or the “magic” of the gorgeous throwback uniforms (which should be made the permanent uniforms), Orlando surprised many people this season. Finishing the season with a win in Charlotte gave the Magic their first winning record in seven years. I am proud of this team, but it is not over yet! Tune into ESPN this Saturday, April 13th at 5:00 PM EST to catch game one of the first-round match-up against the heavily favored Toronto Raptors. Let’s hope we witness some #PureMagic.