Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE
Just seven days ago, the Orlando Magic appeared to be locked in to the third seed in the NBA's Eastern Conference, holding a one-game edge as well as the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Indiana Pacers. But over the last week, Orlando's lost four straight games, with Tuesday's defeat against the Detroit Pistons bumping them from third to first; the Pacers knocked off the New York Knicks to take a half-game edge on the Magic for the third seed, as the idle Boston Celtics retained their hold on the fourth seed by virtue of leading the Atlantic Division.
If Orlando remains in the fifth spot, it'll wind up not hosting a single playoff series for the first time since the 2006/07 season, and will in all likelihood draw the Atlantic Division champion. In the loss column, Boston owns a two-game advantage on the Philadelphia 76ers and a five-game edge on New York. Further, the Celtics own the head-to-head tiebreakers with their Atlantic foes, giving them a decisive advantage heading into the season's final weeks.
Orlando has some difficult games remaining, including two against Philadelphia, one against Boston, and one against New York, but its schedule is devoid of games against the league's truly elite squads. The Pacers, in contrast, still have to face the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Chicago Bulls. What Indiana has going in its favor is the location of its games: the Pacers play nine of their 13 remaining games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, including four straight to end the season. Further, their game against Chicago comes on the last night of the season, and if the Bulls elect to rest their players, Indiana could find itself with an easy victory.
The Magic had a chance to put some distance between themselves and their challengers of late, but squandered that opportunity by playing poor defense and suffering untimely injuries to top players Dwight Howard, Ryan Anderson, and Jameer Nelson. What looked like it could have been a cakewalk has instead turned into a grind, which is as apt a metaphor for this Orlando team's season as any.