Orlando Magic's Losing Streak to Winning Teams Less Meaningful Than You Might Think

The Orlando Magic's season hit a frustratingly long, rough patch spanning an entire month. Beginning with a January 12th loss to the New Orleans Hornets, Orlando dropped eight straight games against teams with records better than .500, a streak which didn't end until last Sunday when it decisively defeated the L.A. Lakers. The fact that the NBA's national television partners carried six of the eight losses made sure the entire NBA-watching community, not simply Magic fans, knew of Orlando's struggles.

And while the streak rankled fans and indicated some serious flaws with the team--ignoring Dwight Howard in the fourth quarter the most pressing--I think we ought to resist the urge to make too much of it.

For one thing, none of the losses came by more than 11 points, and six of the eight were played outside the friendly confines of Amway Center, the Magic's new building. Based on Pythagorean Expectation, which uses point differential to estimate how many wins a given team should have picked up, the Magic ought to have won two or three of those games. Even using the low end of that estimate, Orlando's record would stand at 38-19 instead of the more modest 36-21.

Taking a broader view, though, Neil Paine of basketball-reference.com did some research and found a team's record vs. "top 10" opponents is ultimately meaningless in predicting playoff success:

[K]nowing how a team performed vs. elite teams actually tells you less about who wins a playoff series than a team's record against all teams, even non-elite teams. Team records vs. the cream of the crop certainly sound meaningful, but when it comes to predicting success or failure in the playoffs, you'd be better off knowing how they did against the entire league.

Regardless of how Orlando performs in the playoffs--almost certainly as the East's fourth seed, by the way, as it trails the third-place Bulls by five games in the loss column--nobody will remember their obscure, highly specific eight-game losing streak. I'd advise not making too much of it.

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