The only thing seemingly capable of stopping the Orlando Magic of late was the NBA All-Star break.
The week off interrupted a stretch where the Magic won five straight games, and seven of eight overall, to move within a half game of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. Orlando’s pre-All-Star break finale was perhaps their most impressive game of the season, as they won by 38 over a Charlotte Hornets team that had defeated the Magic in 13 straight match-ups.
The Magic are making a slow climb up the East standings and the NBA Power Rankings. Click on each publication for the full ranking...
ESPN - Magic jump from 22 to 20
The Magic are having a season that exceeds expectations across the board. The team was expected to be in full rebuild mode, but instead the strong play of first-time All-Star Nikola Vucevic has them entering the break a half game out of the playoffs and on a five-game winning streak. In addition, the deadline deal to bring in 2017 No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz gives the Magic three top-five draft picks from the past two drafts (along with Mo Bamba and Jonathan Isaac) to develop as a potential future core. -- Andre Snellings
NBA.com - Magic jump from 18 to 16
The Magic seemingly buried themselves by losing seven of eight games over the last couple of weeks of January. But they’ve put themselves in great position (with the caveat that this is the Eastern Conference) by winning seven of eight going into the break. They’ve had the league’s No. 1 defense (98.8 points allowed per 100 possessions) over that stretch and their five-game winning streak has been both their best offensive stretch (120.2 scored per 100) and their best defensive stretch (97.4 allowed per 100) of the season. They have one of the league’s easiest remaining schedules in regard to opponent strength, with seven games (including a visit from the Bulls on Friday) against the bottom four teams in the East. They’re 7-1 against that group (and 19-15 against the East overall) thus far. -- John Schuuhmann
Sports Illustrated - Magic jump from 21 to 18
I didn’t think the Magic had much in the tank going into this season and was expecting them to just fade into oblivion throughout the season. Instead, Orlando is looking at ending its six-year playoff drought as the regular season races toward its conclusion. -- Khadrice Rollins
The Athletic - Magic jump from 24 to 22
I will be the first to admit that I’ve talked a lot of trash about this Orlando Magic team and dismissed them pretty much every step of the way. After their initial first month of the season surge, the Magic looked typically mediocre and incapable of being taken seriously. I even have a huge problem with Nikola Vucevic being named an All-Star over several players just as deserving but on better teams. With all that said, this team is surging at the right time and they’re in danger of being taken seriously in the 8-seed race because of it. Not only have they won five games in a row heading into the break, but they’ve also won those games by an average of 24.8 points. The closest victory they’ve had in this stretch is a 16-point win over Atlanta.
Now, the worst thing you can do is start trusting this Magic team to be competent. Steve Clifford is an excellent coach and the Magic caught a few breaks in the schedule during this stretch. However, playing well is playing well and they’re not just squeaking by with these wins. They’re all blowouts. They find themselves a half-game behind Detroit and Miami for that 8-seed slot. Orlando also has the third easiest strength of schedule for the remaining season. It might be time to start considering whether the Magic should start being thrown into the mix of teams we seriously believe might be able to throw enough of a run at the 8-seed in the East to be taken seriously. -- Zach Harper
CBS Sports - Magic jump from 24 to 18
Quietly, the Magic have won five in a row, the second-longest streak in the NBA. One league source told me over All-Star Weekend that Markelle Fultz could thrive under the player development skills of Steve Clifford. This team has a really good shot at the playoffs, especially if Jonathan Isaac keeps playing the way he has this month. In fact, I’d bet on it. Remember: In Clifford’s first season in Charlotte, that team went into the All-Star break at 23-30, then went 20-9 the rest of the way and made the playoffs. -- Reid Forgrave
Rotoworld - Magic remain at 22
While Magic fans are hoping to get a glimpse of Markelle Fultz (shoulder) before the end of the season, both Fultz and president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said the young point guard is still without a targeted return date. “As to the timetable, you guys have heard me say this to the point where you probably don’t want to hear me say it again, but I will anyway. We’re going to do it right. We are not going to do it fast,” said Weltman. “It’s our job organizationally, from the performance directors to the coaches to all of us to put him in a position to succeed. And however long that takes, that’s how long it’ll take.” -- Tommy Beer
UPROXX - Magic jump from 18 to 15
Are the Magic actually the 15th-best team in the NBA? Almost certainly not. They’re playing like it right now, though, and that is what we do here. -- Brad Rowland (The Magic were also the intro to the rankings, click on the link for more)
Bleacher Report - Magic jump from 25 to 21
Don’t look now, but the Magic, presumed to be lottery-bound toast several times in these rankings, are within a half-game of the East’s eighth playoff spot.
Jonathan Isaac continues to play the best ball of his short career, posting three of the four highest-scoring outputs of his season this past week with 17 points in wins against the Bucks and Hawks and 20 against the Pelicans. Still defined by his defensive potential, Isaac also grounded human pogo stick John Collins with three blocks on a single possession.
Though in his second season, Isaac has only played 80 career games. We might be seeing his official sophomore breakout...just a little later than expected. -- Grant Hughes