Now that the Orlando Magic have finally secured their spot in the postseason, we can start looking ahead to seeding.
Would the Magic be better off moving into the sixth seed? Maybe. Staying in the seventh seed? Possibly. Dropping down to the eighth seed? Noooo!
We asked Magic Twitter the same question and they overwhelming felt that the Magic would best match-up against the Philadelphia 76ers...
Now that a playoff spot has been clinched, we can start focusing on seeding. Who do the Orlando Magic best match-up against in the first round?— Orlando Pinstriped Post (@OPPMagicBlog) April 8, 2019
The Magic are just days away from playing postseason basketball, but where they end up in the standings and who they’ll play still remains somewhat of a mystery. So we thought it would be a good time to get together and discuss which team each of us here at OPP think the Magic would be best off playing in the first round.
Be sure to let us know your opinion in the comments section below...
Cory Hutson: Philadelphia 76ers
I would take the Philadelphia 76ers, not necessarily because of how they played relative to the Magic’s other potential opponents, but because of how much each team might increase their level of play in the playoffs. Milwaukee can easily get 8-10 more minutes per game from Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Toronto will presumably get Kahwi Leonard every game. Philadelphia has less room to grow.
That’s not all subjective opinion, either. FiveThirtyEight uses their “CARMElO” system to rank the power of each team, and also anticipates a “playoff adjustment” as teams tighten up their rotations and give more minutes to better players. They expect relatively big adjustments for the Raptors and Bucks, but only a fairly modest improvement for the Sixers.
In other words, even if these teams look close right now, I think Milwaukee and Toronto will further separate themselves in the postseason.
Mike Cali: Toronto Raptors
No advanced statistics are needed to make my pick. I simply have no interest in the Magic having to contain the freight train that is Giannis Antetokounmpo in a seven-game series, or face a team like the Sixers where even if you limit two members of their star-studded core, they still have three others than can do plenty of damage.
The Raptors are in no way lacking starpower, but personnel wise I think the Magic match-up better against them than the Sixers. That of course begins with Aaron Gordon defending Kawhi Leonard and Jonathan “The Pascal Siakam Eraser” Isaac defending Pascal Siakam. Leonard, averaging 26.7 points per game overall this season, has been limited to 18 per in three games against Orlando, which among teams he has played more than once this season, is his second lowest output. No opponent this season has better contained Siakam, averaging 17 points per this season, than the Magic. In four games against Orlando, Siakam has put up just 8.8 points per on 34.2 percent shooting, both of which are season-lows among the 29 teams he has faced. We don’t know if these trends against the Raptors’ two leading scorers would continue in the postseason when stakes are higher, but I’d take my chances.
Plus, no team in the East is facing more pressure than the Raptors, who finally don’t have LeBron James in their path to the NBA Finals, and are also facing the possibility of losing Leonard in free agency this summer. The Raptors haven’t handled pressure well in recent years and, piled on this postseason, that could work in the Magic’s favor. Plus, it would be pretty comical if Toronto finally avoids LeBron and instead lose to the brick wall that is the Orlando Magic.
Garrett Towsend: Philadelphia 76ers
I’m writing this only a couple of hours after the Magic clinched a playoff spot (and the division title!), so forgive the fact that it isn’t an analytical deep-dive. Instead I’m listening to my gut and nominating the 76ers as the team I’d most like Orlando to see in the Round One (you know, assuming I’m not allowed to pick the Knicks or my local C Grade rec’ team). But why?
The Sixers really do seem like a team with a chance to be a juggernaut, and if they truly get rolling they might just be unstoppable. But they certainly haven’t reached that level yet! Joel Embiid remains an injury risk and will always be someone for whom the minutes are monitored. Ben Simmons is less effective when pushed off the ball, and he still doesn’t know which hand to shoot with. Jimmy Butler has already appeared unhappy and openly chafed at what he perceives to be a diminished role. As the new kid on the block, Tobias Harris hasn’t totally figured out how to fit in. JJ Redick is due to eventually miss a shot against the Magic. The bench is pretty barren. Brett Brown might not be a good coach. These are all cracks that an opponent could potentially benefit from.
There’s no doubt that the Magic -- who would be heavy underdogs in every single contest should this series eventuate -- will need to catch a few breaks if they’re going to make it to May. Embiid, Simmons, Butler and Harris have all at various points proven themselves to be legitimate gamewinners. It wouldn’t be a totally laughable argument to suggest that they’re the best four players in the series. Yet the fact remains that there is only one basketball on the court at a time, and the 76ers don’t appear to be a team functioning in perfect synchronous harmony. Again, cracks.
These are the type of circumstances that can undermine a talented foundation and create the potential for upset. A statement like that should be music to the Magic’s collective ears, who themselves would already be thinking about the inspired play of their own All-Star center, the length and switchability of defenders like AG and Isaac, the backcourt players capable of taking some advantage of a Redick mismatch, and the game-changing flamethrower tendencies of Terrence Ross.
Squint hard enough and you can see the outline of an unexpected result.
Aaron Goldstone: Toronto Raptors
I agree with Mike here. Absolutely no disrespect to the Raptors, but I arrived at this conclusion by simply eliminating who/what I wouldn't want to see first.
There’s no one on the planet who matches up well with Giannis Antetokounmpo right now. I realize that his perimeter shooting is still somewhat suspect, but the Bucks have surrounded their franchise superstar with enough shooting at other positions to make the weakness virtually nonexistent. I also view Mike Budenholzer has one of the best (if not the very best) scheme coaches in the league. Budenholzer and his staff have transformed the Bucks from a good team to a championship contender. I would like to avoid the Bucks at all costs.
That leaves Philadelphia and Toronto. I understand that Toronto owns both a better Offensive and Defensive Rating than Philadelphia (DRtg: 5th in NBA compared to Philadelphia's 14th-ranked defense; ORtg: 6th, compared to Philadelphia's 8th-ranked offense), but the Sixers still scare me more. In a seven game series, best of luck to the coaching staff that has to game-plan for Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, and J.J. Redick.
Again, absolutely no disrespect to the Raptors - they are clearly the superior team (compared to the Magic). But they do have a first-year head coach. Nick Nurse is a great coach; but I think that’s part of the equation here that factors in significantly for me.
We’ve seen Kyle Lowry go through extended shooting-slumps in the playoffs before. He’s an All-Star level player, but I still prefer the Lowry/Augustin match-up opposed to a potential Simmons/Augustin match-up (which would cause Orlando to switch a lot more).
Like Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard is an MVP-caliber player the Magic would have to deal with. But switching-up the looks the Magic would give Leonard (which is something I spoke with Coach Clifford about earlier this season. Gordon defending him, Isaac defending him, double-teaming him, helping early, helping late, etc.) and making someone else beat you is something I would feel more comfortable with than trying to match-up with Philadelphia's powerful starting lineup that can beat you in a multitude of ways.
There isn’t a potential opponent out there that will be easy, flip a coin. But if the Magic can steal a game or two in a series (which would be HUGE for the franchise moving forward), I like Toronto as an opponent to potentially make that happen.
Zach Oliver - Toronto Raptors
Of the top three seeds, I think the best match-up for the Magic would be Toronto. I think, at all costs, they want to avoid the Bucks. They don’t have anyone to match-up with Giannis, and the Bucks have been a freight train all season. Philadelphia is interesting since they’ve played them very well this season, but J.J. Redick has had big games against them, and Joel Embiid is a handful, especially once the pace slows down in the playoffs. I think, overall, they have better match-ups against the Raptors, and the fact that the Raptors have a first year head coach makes that match-up even more welcoming.