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Magic vs. Hornets preview: Once more, with (playoff) implications

It’s time to figure out the Magic’s first round match-up

Orlando Magic v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

It’s almost time for Game 82 and, as is the case every year, Magic fans are furiously calculating odds and tracking wins and losses across the league. The big difference (and good news) this time, of course, is that we’re talking playoffs instead of ping pong balls.

Win number 41 locked Orlando into a playoff slot, but at the moment we don’t know precisely where they’re going to land. It’s going to be a busy night across the association, with a number of games that will ultimately impact the fate of the Magic. Let’s dive in and deconstruct the various scenarios facing the squad.

At the moment Orlando are sitting in seventh, and if they win they’ll slide no lower. The team would also stay at this spot if the Pistons happen to lose, but considering they’re lining up against the Knicks it’s probably best not to count on that outcome.

If the Magic want to jump up and nab the sixth seed they’ll require the Nets to lose their matchup against the Heat. Miami were eliminated from the playoffs last night so it’s hard to imagine they’ll be firing on all cylinders, although the Dwyane Wade finale could provide some juice. If the neighbors from Southern Florida do their part and Orlando also win they’ll finish sixth. They could also get there with a loss, but it would require the Nets losing and the Pistons winning, bringing all three teams to 41-41 and giving the Magic the tiebreaker thanks to being a division winner (ahh, the madness of tiebreakers).

The other possibility is that the Magic lose and then watch both Brooklyn and Detroit win. If that happens it will drop the team into 8th and a first round match up against the rampaging Bucks. No one wants to see that, so it’s imperative that they take care of business and secure a W.

Making all of this harder is a team we haven’t yet talked about. Tonight’s opponents, Kemba Walker and the Hornets of Charlotte, have ripped off four straight wins (and 8 of their last 11) to keep their slim playoff hopes alive. They can only get there by coupling a win with a Detroit loss, and because both games are being played simultaneously you can bet that they’ll be motivated; they’re literally playing for their season.

The game is taking place in Charlotte, where the Hornets have been very good this season (25-15). There’s also the possibility that it might be Walker’s last game with the franchise as he heads towards unrestricted free agency. He’s already a noted Magic killer, so with more than ever to play for it would be wise to expect a(nother) big performance.

Fittingly, Steve Clifford is given the opportunity to essentially end the season of the team that fired him just months ago, a move that ultimately led to the Magic’s transformation into a playoff team.

Orlando have been a very good basketball team for almost half a season now, showing tangible and sustained improvement since the calendar flipped to February. As a unit they’ve been monstrous defensively, and the once-maligned offense has started to click as a number of players worked their way out of an early season funk. They won’t be favored going into any first round series, but they’re looking like a team who’s going to make the opposition really work.

Recently the Magic have racked up a number of impressive wins over teams sitting above them in the standings. Now they just need one over a group looking up at them. Let’s hope they close out strong and get the luck they need elsewhere.

As always, be sure to join us in the game thread and dive into the discussion!