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Magic vs. Raptors preview: Orlando’s playoff push continues north of the border

Orlando, a half-game behind the Heat for the eighth spot with five remaining, face one of the league’s best

NBA: Orlando Magic at Toronto Raptors John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Shortly after Terrence Ross was traded from Toronto to Orlando in 2017, he wrote a farewell letter to Raptors fans.

The Magic, at the time of the trade, were 21-36. The Raptors, coming off an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals, were 32-23. Still, he closed the letter by saying that his message to his new Magic teammates would be that the goal is to win the East in the near future.

“And the East, I’ll tell them — I’ll promise them: It goes through this team. Through this city,” Ross wrote in the letter. “It goes through Toronto.”

The Magic, who have won six of their last seven games, are still far from contending for the East. But the road to making the playoffs this season, and taking the first step in their progression, does indeed go through Toronto.

Sitting a half-game behind the Miami Heat for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East, the Magic head to Toronto for what is the most challenging game remaining on their schedule. The Raptors, who are just about locked into the two seed in the East, own the second best record in the league at 54-23.

The Magic, though, have had great success this season against the Raptors. In fact, Orlando is a Danny Green last-second shot away from being up 3-0 in the season series. Green’s game-winner lifted the Raptors to a 93-91 win over the Magic in November. The Magic won the next two match-ups in convincing fashion: a 116-87 win in December (albeit with no Kyle Lowry) and a 113-98 victory in Toronto in February (albeit with no Kawhi Leonard).

For the second straight game, the Magic have an opportunity to win the season series against one of the East’s elite teams. On Saturday, the Magic dished out a season-high 37 assists en route to winning their second game this season in Indiana to take the season series, 3-1. They have a chance do to the same against a Raptors team that is 30-9 at home and one win away from clinching the Atlantic Division and no worse than the second seed.

In their win over the Bulls on Saturday, the Raptors were without Kawhi Leonard for personal reasons and Pascal Siakim for rest purposes, so Orlando may not catch any breaks line-up wise this time around.

Siakim, averaging 17.0 points and 6.9 rebounds, has been quieted by the Orlando frontcourt in three games against the Magic. He is averaging 9.7 points on 37.9 percent shooting, which are easily his lowest numbers this season against any Eastern Conference team.

But the challenges the Magic face overall are clear as Toronto enters with the league’s fifth best offensive rating at 112.4 points per 100 possessions and fifth best defensive rating at 106.9 points allowed per.

Thankfully, all of the teams at the bottom of the East’s playoff race will be tested on Tuesday as the Nets host the Bucks, the Pistons play at Indiana and the Heat play at Boston.

Should Orlando manage to move up in the standings, clinch a playoff berth and somehow clinch the seventh seed, Monday’s game against the Raptors could serve as a potential playoff preview. Based on their performance against Toronto this season, that might be the best possible outcome for the Magic.