The Orlando Magic are one win away from officially making this the most successful season since their rebuild began in 2012.
Since Dwight Howard left town, the best record the Magic have posted in a season was 35-47 during the 2015-2016. After winning the first four games of their current five-game homestand, Orlando is currently 35-38 with nine games remaining.
The scheduler-makers, though, have saved the hardest of this home stretch for last.
With the Magic having beaten the likes of Cleveland, Atlanta, New Orleans and Memphis, they now host the Philadelphia 76ers. Facing the East’s third best team will serve as a measuring stick for the Magic before they head on the road for what will be the biggest games the team has played in roughly seven years.
Detroit loses to Golden State. The Magic are now two games back of the seventh-seeded Pistons and one-game back of the eighth-seeded Miami Heat.— Orlando Pinstriped Post (@OPPMagicBlog) March 25, 2019
Magic play both teams this week. I’m excited and terrified... pic.twitter.com/F7RBmUy5FY
That will begin on Tuesday when the Magic face the Miami Heat, who lead Orlando by one game for the eighth and final playoff spot. If the Magic can manage a victory over the 47-23 Sixers, they would head to Miami with a chance to jump ahead of the Heat and grab hold of a playoff spot with eight games to go.
Easier said that done with Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris and the rest of the Processors coming to town.
While the Magic are coming off a victory in which they erased a 17-point deficit en route to an overtime win against the shorthanded Grizzlies, Orlando’s lack of energy to open such a meaningful game was alarming. The Magic, owners of the league’s second best defensive rating since the All-Star break at 104.5 points per, will need to be at their best for all four quarters to keep pace with an elite team like the Sixers.
Philly, which is just about locked into the three seed, had won six straight games before allowing a Trae Young buzzer-beater in a 129-127 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday. The Sixers enter with the league’s ninth best offensive rating at 111.5 points per 100 possessions, and 11th best defensive rating, allowing 108.3 points per.
The Sixers have a 2-1 series lead over the Magic this season, with the home team winning in each game. JJ Redick, averaging 17.7 points this season, has feasted on his former team, averaging 26.3 points per game on 53 percent shooting against the Magic in the three games (the only team he averages more points against this season is the Nuggets at 28.0 per in two games). He has shot an absolutely absurd 62 percent from three against Orlando, making six threes per contest.
Here are all of JJ Redick's 8 3-pointers vs Orlando. So many tough shots in here.— Tom West (@TomWestNBA) October 21, 2018
This is the kind of shooting the #Sixers need in their starting lineup, which is the main reason I think Redick should start with Fultz rather than Saric. pic.twitter.com/OezZdhPXje
The Magic received strong shooting performances on Friday against the Grizzlies from Terrence Ross (31 points, 10-for-15 FG) and Evan Fournier (27 points, 9-for-17 FG). When those two are feeling it, good things tend to happen for the Magic, and they will sorely need that efficiency against the Sixers. Aaron Gordon had his first career-streak of three straight 20-plus point game snapped against the Grizzlies, as he was held to just five points on 2-for-8 shooting.
For Sixers fans, there will be some familiar faces on the Magic bench. With Markelle Fultz and Michael Carter-Williams, Orlando has stockpiled former Philly point guards in recent weeks. MCW, despite going scoreless, provided a big lift for the Magic against the Grizzlies, grabbing crucial rebounds that helped seal the victory.
The Magic also got a lift from the home crowd, earning praise from Fournier and Steve Clifford.
WAY TO F$CKING FIGHT!!!! And to everyone that came out tonight THANK YOU. Place was rocking!!!!— Evan Fournier (@EvanFourmizz) March 23, 2019
“Tonight for this group of guys, to me, is the first time hey got a taste of what the Orlando fan base can do for a team,” Clifford said after the game. “Cause they really were a big part of that....Teams get what they deserve, and if we can continue to get better and play well, I think the guys got a taste tonight of what this fanbase, how supportive they can be and what a difference they can make at home.”
With the Magic seeking their 36th win of the season and a spot in the playoffs, the crowd has plenty to cheer for tonight.