The 2018/19 season has been up and down for the Orlando Magic through their first half.
After opening the season 2-6, the Magic reeled off eight wins in their next 12 games to get back to the .500 mark on the season. Since then, they’ve gone 7-14, and seen big leads fall left and right, including double-digit leads in three of their last four.
Now, facing one of their toughest stretches of the season — 10 of their next 13 are against teams currently in the playoffs, with two more against teams in ninth and 10th in the Eastern Conference — the Magic will have the chance to learn a lot about the direction they’ll go the second half of the season.
Should they continue to slide down the standings — they sit 11th going into Saturday nights game against the Boston Celtics — they might turn into sellers come the NBA’s trading deadline on February 7th. Should they begin to turn things around and see wins once again begin to pile up, they could become buyers.
One thing, potentially, on their side heading into this stretch of games is how they’ve played against teams .500 or better. While they only boast a record of 9-15 against those teams, they’ve played, arguably, some of their best basketball against those teams. Six of their 15 losses have come by 10 points or fewer, including an overtime loss to the Denver Nuggets, a one and a two point loss against the Philadelphia 76ers, and Toronto Raptors.
While the numbers may not show it completely, it has appeared as though the Magic have played up to their competition in a lot of contests. They’ve pushed some of the best teams in the league, and walked away with some impressive victories in doing so.
On the other side, they’ve struggled to bring energy on a nightly basis, getting blown out because of that on all too many occasions. They’ve also struggled to play with consistency when shots aren’t falling, allowing it to bleed into their defense and bring out struggles on that end.
The continual inconsistencies are concerning, especially with a stretch like they have coming up.
“We have everything to play for, that’s the bottom line,” said coach Steve Clifford before Saturday night’s game. “It’s not today, nor tomorrow, or all of this. It’s still the same thing — you have to find ways to get better, and that’s what we’re not doing. That’s what I’m responsible for.”
Should they not turn things around over the 13 games they have remaining before the trade deadline, they’ll likely become sellers. Rumors have been flying that teams have expressed interest in Terrence Ross, but the Magic have yet to fully engage in those talks, rather preferring to move Jonathan Simmons.
If they lose eight or more of their upcoming games, and find themselves sitting upwards of 10 games out of the playoffs, does their tone change? Do they become open to dealing a player like a Ross, or even Nikola Vucevic who is having, arguably, the best season of his career?
On the other side, if they play well, and continue to hang around within striking distance of the eighth seed, do they become buyers, looking to upgrade their point guard position that desperately needs help off the bench? Do they look for another shooter to come off the bench with Ross and give them better balance?
While questions will continue to mount, we won’t have any answers after a grueling few weeks that starts Saturday night against the Celtics.