With exactly 10 games to go for the Orlando Magic, the common question that most fans have been asking lately has been, "will the team get 60+ wins?"
Well, going strictly by the numbers, the answer appears to be yes. Which is remarkable, given the fact not many Orlando followers (including myself) expected to see the team reach that threshold after Jameer Nelson was lost for the year. I digress.
I decided to take a look at three different sites that project NBA regular season standings. Here's what each of them had to say, with regards to how many wins the Magic are predicted to end up with:
Basketball Prospectus - 61 wins
Basketball-Reference - 61 wins
ESPN - 61 wins
As you can see, all three websites are in agreement. 61 wins, it is.
Taking a look at the schedule, here's how the wins & losses are expected to look like for Orlando (an upset loss is predicted to occur, so I picked Miami as the culprit. Not saying they will win. I just picked that team for the sake of argument):
at Miami (L)
at Atlanta (W)
at Houston (L)
New York (W)
at New Jersey (W)
at Milwaukee (W)
I think everyone would agree that the games versus the Cavaliers, Heat, and Rockets are winnable match-ups, but it seems unlikely that the Magic would beat all three teams (knock on wood). Likewise, I think everyone would agree that the other games slated to be played (excluding Cleveland, Miami, & Houston) are losable match-ups for Orlando, but it seems unlikely that the team would lose to any of their remaining opponents (knock on wood x2).
In any case, as long as the Magic beat the squads they're expected to beat (with a projected upset loss, notwithstanding), then 61 appears to be the final count in the win column. Question is, will that be enough wins to grab hold of the #2 seed in the Eastern Conference? The jury is still out on that particular question, considering the Boston Celtics are currently tied with Orlando for the #2 seed, for the moment (the Magic are ahead in percentage points, but that won't last).
And remember, if Boston and Orlando finish with the same number of wins, the tiebreaker would currently go to the Celtics (35-10) because they have a slightly better conference record in the East than the Magic (33-11). However, that can change if Boston were to, somehow, slip up and lose to a conference foe (or two). It's worth mentioning this possibility because the C's are, also, projected to finish with 61 wins.
So, what needs to happen for Orlando to secure the #2 seed outright? Simple, win more games than Boston. Given that both squads are projected to finish with 61 victories, the Magic have to (at minimum) win 8 out their last 10 so that the team snags 62 victories. All Orlando needs to do, in that scenario, is beat everyone except Cleveland & Houston. Not too hard, but easier said than done. If the Magic were to suffer an upset loss along the way,
That's the only option the Magic have, because they can't afford to tie the Celtics record-wise at all. There is a scenario where Boston and Orlando could finish with the same record AND the same conference record. All that would need to occur, in that scenario, is for the Celtics to beat everyone remaining on their schedule except Cleveland. Then, the Magic would need to beat everyone remaining on their schedule except Houston and Memphis. Why the Grizzlies? Because they're a Western Conference team. Confused much?
If Orlando beats the remaining teams on their schedule (except Houston & Memphis), they'll finish with a conference record of 41-11. If Boston beats the remaining teams on their schedule (except Cleveland), they'll finish with a conference record of 41-11. Then what? Another tiebreaker, of course, which would go to the team with the better winning percentage against teams eligible for playoffs in their own conference. Who would win that tiebreaker? The Celtics (17-6), because they have a better conference/playoff teams record than the Magic (14-9).
All in all, Orlando has to finish with a better record than Boston to lock up the #2 seed. That's common sense, obviously, but (it's worth repeating) the Magic can't afford to finish the season with the same record as the Celtics. It's as simple as that.