As it stands today, Orlando is four games out of the playoffs. With 26 games left, that seems close, and at first glance of the schedule, it may seem well within reach. But upon further examination, it’s close in the same way a mile or two walk seems close, until you find out it’s actually an uphill hike, which is an apt way to describe the final stretch for Orlando.
The remaining schedule is deceptive.
Overall, the Magic’s final 26 opponents have a sub-.500 winning percentage. However, for the most part the softer parts of the schedule are at home, and Orlando’s playing on the road 15 of its last 26 games. Away from home, there aren’t many, if any, gimmes for the Magic.
Teams hosting Orlando the rest of the season sport a .522 winning percentage. Now, I know that’s not exactly Golden State Warriors set-the-world-on-fire percentage (though the Magic, coming off a 130-114 loss to the Warriors, still have to play them once more in Oakland), but it means the Magic will have to play a playoff-caliber team, on average. (The Hornets, who currently have their grips on the eight-seed, own a .518 winning percentage.)
If this didn’t seem tough enough – climbing into the playoffs by beating competitive teams on their home turf – the Magic’s road performance this season compounds the problem. So far this year, the Magic have a 10-16 road record. They score three points less away from home, and give up 1.3 more. (That’s a sizeable 4.3-point swing between home and road games.)
It’s not entirely unexpected. Orlando has a young team that’s still figuring everything out and developing under a new coach, but things are going to have to change pretty dramatically to pick up some road wins and capture the eight-seed.
Being four games out, a lot of what happens is out of the Magic’s hands, but they at least have some direct control over their fate. Some. Orlando still has four games total left against the Detroit Pistons and the Charlotte Hornets – two of the three teams standing between the Magic and a spot in the playoffs.
Ultimately – and get ready for this groundbreaking assessment – Orlando is going to have to win games it should at home, and steal some on the road if it’s going to make the playoffs. It’s what playoff teams do. Maybe, though, this isn’t a playoff team, and a postseason berth is still a year away. And that’s fine. Orlando’s front office is looking past this season anyway, as it should be.
Either way, we’ll find out how far this season’s Magic can climb over the next 26 games.