Today, the Magic have validated those rankings, despite not having played since they were released. As Brian Schmitz points out, the Cleveland Cavaliers' loss to the Los Angeles Lakers last night drops them to 32-8, for a winning percentage of .800. The Magic, at 33-8, have a .805 winning percentage and thus own the best record in the league.
Officially, it doesn't mean anything. The Magic are on top of the standings, at least for one day. Unofficially, though, it shows that they have entered the discussion as a team capable of winning a championship. The statistician Bradford Doolittle indicates as much in this week's Prospectus Hoops List:
Orlando has been in the league's top five for a month now, and the gap between the Magic and the NBA's previous big three of the Lakers, Celtics and Cavaliers narrows with each passing week. This week, for the first time all season, Orlando's power rating has edged up over the 60 mark that is a sure-fire signifier of a title contender.
There are a couple of red flags on Orlando's dossier, however. The Magic has played the league easiest schedule in terms of opponent winning percentage, plus Orlando is 8-3 in close games. However, Stan Van Gundy's team has played 22 of 41 games on the road and is a league-best 17-5 away from home. This team is a legitimate contender to win it all.
There's one more thing I'd like to mention before concluding this post. Nobody would argue that the 1994/95 Orlando Magic team, which won 57 games on its way to the NBA Finals, wasn't a great team. After 41 games in that season, the Magic's point differential was +352.
This year, after the same number of games, the Magic are +351, a mere two-hundredths of a point per game behind the 1994/95 team's pace.
Believe in this team.