The Orlando Magic are off to one of, if not the most surprising starts to the 2017/18 season. With dominating victories against the Cleveland Cavaliers — in Cleveland — and San Antonio Spurs, the Magic have the foundation for what could be a solid season.
While the hot start is a welcoming sign for the Magic, the road will get tough, and fast for the high flying bunch.
Starting with Sunday evening’s game against the Charlotte Hornets, the Magic will play 11 of their next 17 games away from the Amway Center. Included in that stretch is their first West Coast road trip of the season, which sees them play a back-to-back in Phoenix and Denver, then visit the defending champion Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers.
For mediocre teams, West Coast swings are where they go and crumble, be it because of a blowout loss, or lack of continuity among the players.
There’s no secret to the fact the Magic have struggled on the road over the last few seasons. Since their last playoff birth during the 2011/12 season, the Magic have not managed to win more than 13 games on the road in a single season, a number they hit last season. The other four seasons saw them win 12 (15/16 & 14/15) four (13/14) and eight (12/13) games on the road respectively.
Over that same period of time, the Eastern Conference only saw three teams make the playoffs with fewer than 16 wins on the road: Indiana Pacers 13 (16/17) , Atlanta Hawks 14 (13/14) and Boston Celtics 14 (12/13). In the Western Conference, no team has made it with fewer than 16 road wins, with Portland the Memphis each winning 16 during the 2015/16 season.
Expecting the Magic to take a big jump and win close to 20 games on the road is unreasonable. The team is still young, and will inevitably have it’s bumps throughout the season, especially on the road.
However, thinking they could win 16-18 games on the road seems reasonable. Should they hit that 18 mark, winning just 50 percent of their home games could secure them a playoff birth. With a sparkling 4-0 record on the early season at home, it’s not far fetched to expect the Magic to win at least 17 more games at the Amway Center this year.
One thing that could trip the Magic up is their amount of back-to-backs on the road. While the team has only 15 sets of back-to-backs this season, eight of them will be away-away, including three in this next month stretch. Two of those eight will also come during Orlando’s two west coast trips this season.
The Magic see a very heavy road schedule before the All-Star break, playing a total of 28 games on the road, compared to 22 at home. Getting off to a solid start on the road will set the tone for the entire season, and open things up for the Magic to finish the second half of the season strong at home.
Should the Magic find success on the road early on, and win somewhere around 50 percent of those games, their work will be cut out for them post-All-Star break.
If the Magic can’t continue to carry momentum onto the road, their hot start to the season will soon be forgotten, and another long year could face the Magic.