Coming into the season, the Orlando Magic had a set of goals that seemed, at the least, potentially attainable. First-year coach Scott Skiles laid it out plain and simple, saying he wanted his team to have a winning record, something the team hadn't done in their previous three seasons.
A winning record, as Skiles said, would likely get his team into the playoffs for the first time since the team finished eight games over .500 during the 2011-12 lockout shortened season, a mark which earned them to sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. While they still have a long ways to go -- the season is just past the quarter mark at this point -- the Magic have positioned themselves to make a run at that playoff spot.
Now, sitting at 17-12, and winners of five of their last six, the Magic seem poised to make a run at that playoff spot that the players so desperately want.
Despite their current winning ways and building momentum, the Magic have seen some struggles over their brief streak of success.
Since their dominating victory over the Brooklyn Nets last Monday, the Magic's defense has struggled to consistently defend at a high level, going through stretches in each game of slippage. Over their past two games, the defensive issues have almost cost them, allowing the opposition to hang around, despite their strong play offensively. Add in their poor play on that end Sunday night against the Atlanta Hawks, and it seems like what they were hoping would be their backbone is becoming more and more of an issue.
Coach Skiles has pointed out their issues on the defensive end, but he can't put an exact finger on what the issues are. Following Wednesday night's victory, Skiles said he thought it was a mix of different things, including getting guys to buy in, playing tough teams and lack of practice time. "I think it's a combination of all that," said Skiles.
"I think a lack of practice time, we're in the season now, we can't go out tomorrow and practice for two and a half hours and we've definitely had some slippage. We've got to, on the fly here, try and hope we can get it back. It will burn us, there's absolutely no question that it won't."
Skiles was also pleased with how his team did defensively on James Harden, who he said might be the best player of all time drawing contact. "The fact he [Harden] only had six free throw attempts was very good, probably the main reason we won that game," he said. "We did okay on him. He's very, very good. We wanted to try to get him inside the three-point line, get him into a mid-range game. He was making them.
"A couple time we were all over him, he made them. So, you have to give him credit for that. Our overall defense was not great again, we gave up way too much penetration by the other players."
Their issues on the defensive end aside, the Magic are finding ways to win games, something that the team was unable to do in previous seasons. During their current stretch, the Magic have scored 100 points or more in all six, their second highest mark in regulation of 113 against the Charlotte Hornets.
Their momentum is building, and it's putting them in a good spot for a key finish to the calendar year at home.
"It's good, it's getting better," said Evan Fournier when asked about the team's momentum. "I still think we can progress defensively. We have a lack of focus sometimes; myself included. We just have to stay focused for 48 minutes."
Tobias Harris claimed that their win was a "quality win," despite the Rockets struggles through parts of the season.
They still have a long way to go, but the Magic are finding ways to win games and build momentum. With three games at home to wrap up the calendar year, including games against the lowly New Orleans Pelicans and Brooklyn Nets, the Magic must find a way to keep their momentum going.
Despite their success, they know that they have work to continue to do, especially on the defensive end. They won't be able to consistently win games if their defense isn't playing at a high level.
It's still a work in progress, but as they currently sit, the Magic look poised to ride their momentum into contention for a playoff spot, checking off a list of goals on the way.