Making the playoffs in any professional sport is a daunting task.
There are far too many factors that have to be taken into consideration as teams jockey for positions in those playoff series. In some sports, like the NBA, with such a long season, a single game here, or a single game there could be the difference between being the fifth seed, or the eighth seed. With that comes a, sometimes sizable, difference in the talent and difficulty of the team you must face.
With the NBA season winding down, and the playoffs staring 16 teams in the face, the remaining 14 teams who have been eliminated, could be eliminated soon or are fighting for a spot, can hamper a teams chances of making the playoffs.
Since being all but eliminated from the playoff hunt just over a week ago with a loss to the Miami Heat -- the team was officially eliminated two days later -- the Orlando Magic have been playing the role of potential spoiler for a handful of teams.
After easily handling the Chicago Bulls at home last Saturday -- their second easy win against the struggling Bulls in the month of March -- the Magic took care of business in dominating fashion in Indiana against the Pacers. Sunday night, the Magic did it once again, knocking off a beaten and battered Memphis Grizzlies team at home.
Playing that role of spoiler is a role that the Magic somewhat relish in, especially since they can't make the playoffs themselves.
"Yeah, man," Aaron Gordon said with a sheepish grin. "We're not gonna make it, we're not gonna let you make it either. That's kind of our mentality. Maybe be a couple of busters, but for the majority, we're just trying to play hard and progress as a team and progress as individuals."
While not every win will have major playoff implications, with the standings so tight in each conference -- three games separate the fifth seed and the eighth seed in the West, and a half game separates the third seed and the sixth seed in the East -- many will.
Victor Oladipo, who's been battling a sore left ankle since Thursday nights win against the Pacers, shared some of the same sentiment as Gordon.
"Yeah, we want to beat everybody, regardless if they're in or out," said Oladipo.
Four of the Magic's last five games come against teams that are fighting for a playoff spot, or seeding, including two against their in-state rival Miami Heat. With the Detroit Pistons still fighting for their playoff lives -- they sit two games up on the Bulls -- and the Heat and Charlotte Hornets fighting for playoff seeding, the Magic could make a sizable impact the rest of the way with wins.
One player who doesn't think the team relishes in the opportunity to hurt another teams chances is Nikola Vucevic.
"I don't think so," he said. "We just want to go out there and compete and play against whoever we go against and go out there and do our best. We try to focus on ourselves, and it doesn't really work if we're trying to spoil it for someone. Just have to focus on ourselves, improve as a team and focus on ourselves.
"We're just trying to finish out the season the right way."
While hurting another teams chances or making the playoffs, or notching a higher seed can be driving factors, the team is still frustrated this success is coming after they were eliminated themselves.
"Yeah, it's just frustrating that we're not in the playoffs," said Gordon. "We're still playing hard, we still want to win. We want to improve. It's frustrating that we're not in the playoffs."
Needless to say, despite being eliminated, these final five games have meaning for the Magic. Not only is it a chance for them to continue to improve on their recent hot play -- a stretch that has seen them notch four double digit victories, three less than their total for the remainder of the season -- but a chance for them to play spoiler.
And that's a role they feel comfortable in right now.