Discussing the Orlando Magic's Playoff Chances

Shaquille O'Neal and Dennis Scott of the Orlando Magic celebrate during a playoff game against the Detroit Pistons on April 28th, 1996.
This year's Magic team is shaping up to the best since the mid-1990s one that featured Shaquille O'Neal and Dennis Scott, among others. But will it enjoy similar postseason success?
File photo by Chris O'Meara, the Associated Press

It's time to talk playoffs.

Not super in-depth or anything; there's still another month or so to go in the regular season, so a lot of things can change. But there are a few reasons why I want to discuss the postseason now:

I agree with Red's Army, a Celtics blog, when it says the playoff matchups are basically set; that is, we're not moving up from the third seed. Assuming that holds true, we'd match-up with the sixth-seeded team which will likely be either Washington or Philadelphia. For the sake of this post, though, I want to review our matchups with the other four plus-.500 teams in the East to gauge our chances of getting past them to either the Eastern Conference Finals or -- gulp -- the NBA Finals.

The other plus-.500 teams in the East are Boston (51-12), Detroit (46-18), Cleveland (37-28), and Toronto (34-30). We have a combined record of 7-5 against these teams, with only two meetings with Cleveland left. Additionally, we're the only NBA team to defeat both Boston and Detroit twice this season. We're in good shape, right?

Well, not so much. There are several other factors in play here. I submit to you now a list of things to consider before proclaiming us world-beaters:

  • We got lucky. A lot. Four of our seven wins went down-to-the-wire, and each time we caught a lucky break.
    • November 14th @ Cleveland: Dwight Howard inexplicably goes 13-of-16 from the foul line and hits the go-ahead free throw with 5 seconds left in overtime. On Cleveland's ensuing possession, LeBron James drives to the basket, only to be tied-up by Hedo Turkoglu. The final horn sounds after the jump-ball, and the Magic escape Cleveland with a win.
    • November 18th vs. Boston: Paul Pierce's three-pointer at the buzzer clanks off, and the Magic win by two points despite letting the Celtics score almost at will in the second half.
    • January 21st vs. Detroit: Rashard Lewis nails a seventeen-foot banker at the buzzer to give the Magic a narrow 102-100 victory.
    • January 27th vs. Boston: Hedo Turkoglu improbably drills a step-back triple at the buzzer -- with Pierce's hand in his face -- to win the game for Orlando.
  • Our opponents were hurt. A lot. At the risk of stating the obvious, it's a heckuva lot easier to beat a team when it's missing its best player. Unless that team is Houston, in which case you don't stand a chance.
    • January 27th vs. Boston: All-Star forward and future Hall-of-Famer Kevin Garnett (18.8 points, 9.7 rebounds per game in 2007/2008) misses the game with an abdominal strain. Despite the fact that his replacement, Brian Scalabrine, contributes just 1 point and 1 rebound, the Magic win by a scant three points.
    • March 4th vs. Toronto: All-Star forward and certified Magic Killer Chris Bosh (22.6 points, 8.9 rebounds per game in 2007/2008) misses the game with a sore knee. The Magic don't assert themselves in the first half, and only win because Toronto's T.J. Ford decides to play one-on-five basketball in the fourth quarter.

Point differential is a better indicator of a team's ability than won-lost record is. With that in mind, let's take a look at what point differential tells us about how the Magic really stack-up with the rest of the good teams in the East. Make the jump to read the rest of the story.

Thanks for sticking around. Let's continue with our discussion of point differential.

Date ORL Score BOS Score Diff.
18 Nov. 104 102 +2
23 Dec. 91 103 -12
27 Jan. 96 93 +3
TOTAL 291 298 -7
AVG 97.0 99.3 -2.3
Actual win percent: .667
Pythagorean win percent: .418
*****
Date ORL Score DET Score Diff.
2 Nov. 92 116 -24
21 Jan. 102 100 +2
25 Jan. 93 101 -8
19 Feb. 103 85 +18
TOTAL 390 402 -12
AVG. 97.5 100.5 -3.0
Actual win percent: .500
Pythagorean win percent: .395
*****
Date ORL Score CLE Score Diff.
14 Nov. 117 116 +1
11 Feb. 111 118 -7
TOTAL 228 234 -6
AVG. 114.0 117.0 -3.0
Actual win percent: .500
Pythagorean win percent: .410
*****
Date ORL Score TOR Score Diff.
7 Nov. 105 96 +9
20 Feb. 110 127 -17
4 Mar. 102 87 +15
TOTAL 317 310 +7
AVG. 105.7 103.3 +2.3
Actual win percent: .667
Pythagorean win percent: .578

Adding the results of each game up, the Magic have scored 1226 points against these teams this season, while they've surrendered 1244. The Magic's won-lost record against these teams is 7-5, yet their Pythagorean expectation is 5-7. Thus, the Magic and their fans should perhaps curb their enthusiasm about their chances of making it out of the second round of the postseason. Statistically, they haven't proven that they can hang with Boston, Detroit, or Cleveland, and their lone decisive victory over Toronto occurred when the Raptors were without their best player.

Indeed, based on the facts presented today, the Magic need to make good use of the 16 remaining games on their schedule. They could use the tune-up, because although they've managed to hang with the East's other top teams in the regular-season standings, they may not be able to do so in the postseason.

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