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Magic vs. Celtics preview: Is this the day the Orlando Magic clinch a playoff spot?

It’s win and in for the Magic. Though they could have a playoff spot secured before they even take the court

NBA: Orlando Magic at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday could be the day the Magic put one of those “x-” symbols in front of their name in the NBA standings.

With a win over the fourth-seeded Boston Celtics, the Magic would clinch their first playoff berth since 2012, bringing an end to the league’s third longest postseason drought. Orlando could even clinch before they step on the court in Boston for their 7:30 p.m. tip.

If the Heat lose in Indiana (tip-off at noon) AND the Hornets lose in Detroit (tip-off at 4 p.m.), the Magic will have a playoff spot wrapped up and can then shift their focus to seeding. All teams involved in this triple-header of games have something at stake.

  • The Heat trail the Pistons by a game for the eighth seed and are 1.5 games behind the Magic and Nets
  • The Pacers trail the Celtics by a game for the fourth seed and seek a much-needed home court advantage (29-11 at home, 18-22 on the road)
  • The Hornets, who need to win out, are two games behind the Pistons for the eighth seed and 2.5 games behind the Magic for the seventh seed (they host Orlando in the final game of the season with a chance to claim the tiebreaker)
  • The Pistons, clinging to the eighth seed and looking to avoid the Bucks in the first round, trail the Magic and Nets by a half game
  • The Celtics, 1.5 games behind the Sixers, are looking to secure home court advantage over the Pacers
  • The Magic....JUST GET IN!

So, depending on what happens in the Sunday matinee match-ups, the Magic/Celtics game can range anywhere from important to very, very important. Should the Heat beat the Pacers, the Magic will at least catch a break in that the Celtics lose all incentive to beat Orlando, and Brad Stevens will likely initiate operation “load management.”

The Celtics - who have won three straight, the last of which was a crucial 117-97 victory in Indiana on Friday - are starting to look like the team we all thought they would be when the season began. Gordon Hayward, beginning to resemble the player he was in Utah, is coming of a 21-point performance against Indiana where he shot 9-for-9 from the field. Hayward, had been a big part of the Celtics’ offensive resurgence, Keith P. Smith of Celtics Blog wrote after the win over Indiana:

This marked Hayward’s seventh straight game with 11 or more points. During that stretch he’s shooting 58.8 percent from the field and 87.9 percent at the free throw line on almost five free throw attempts per game.

Taking it back a little further, outside of a bad game against the Clippers and a game where he left after one minutes against the Hawks, Hayward has been playing great for a month now. It’s safe to say he’s playing his best basketball as Celtic, and not a moment too soon.

Just a few short months ago, the Magic were 11 games under .500 and seemingly on the verge of adding another year to their playoff drought. But since that time, Orlando has produced the league’s best defense and gone 20-9, the fourth best record in the league during that stretch. They have climbed the standings, reached .500 for the first time since December 4, and even momentarily took sole possession of the sixth seed after their offensive-record-breaking 149-113 win over the Hawks. The Magic, who have gone 10-2 in their last 12 games, are now tied with Nets record-wise at 40-40 and sit in the seventh seed with Brooklyn owning the head-to-head tiebreaker. But right now, the Magic’s focus strictly must be on clinching, not positioning....

“We have to understand that while we’re obviously close, nothing is finished yet,” Nikola Vucevic told reporters. “We have to take care of these next two games.”

The Magic won their first two meetings with Boston this season, each by a one-possession margin, and will be looking for their first sweep of the Celtics since the 1996-1997 season.

In each of the last two nights that the Magic played, the scoreboard worked entirely in favor of Orlando. If that happens again, Orlando could be clinching a playoff spot at around 7:15 p.m. on Sunday. If not, the Magic will take the court with a chance to win their way in.

Enjoy this triple-header, Magic fans. We’ve waiting a long time for a potential playoff clinching day.