It’s that time of year again.
That end-of-season stretch where Orlando starts reeling off a few victories that anger some fans because it hurts the team’s lottery odds, putting Magic players in something of a no-win situation.
Rooting for losses is understandable. Getting angry over wins is irrational.
No team or fanbase in recent years knows better than the Magic how meaningless having those extra few percentage points for the top odds in the lottery can be. The Magic have been battling for top picks for much of the last decade, annually placing themselves among the favorites to do so, and maybe once have left the draft lottery feeling satisfied with their position (getting the second pick with the third best odds in 2013).
That lack of lottery luck certainly adds to the frustration of seemingly meaningless late-season Magic wins in what is a long-lost season (the most visible result of that being when the Magic won their regular-season finale in 2018 to fall behind the Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks, who then landed Luka Doncic and Trae Young, respectively).
But there is some meaning and value to this Magic team of 20-somethings learning how to close games and win.
“I think it’s important to keep playing for each other,” R.J. Hampton said. “We’re a family here. So, no matter if we’re in playoff contention or out of it, we’re still going to play hard every night. We want to get better as a group. We have a lot of young talent on this team. I think these last 10 games or so is definitely going to help us build into this summer and build into next season.”
And that can be accomplished while still landing in that coveted bottom-three finish. Which brings us to Wednesday’s matchup against an Oklahoma City Thunder team hellbent on bumping the Magic off of the top odds podium.
The Thunder have lost 10 straight games, one of which was to Orlando on Sunday, and 18 of their last 21. The Magic over their last 10 games have gone 5-5. That includes two straight wins, giving them what is their best and perhaps last chance to win three straight games for the first time this season.
Cut to Jamahl Mosley in the Magic locker room...
The Magic have held their opponent to 90 or fewer points in each of their last two wins, albeit it to the Shai-less Thunder and Steph-less Warriors (and truth be told, the Magic didn’t score much more than either team). That has helped to give them back-to-back wins for the fifth time this season.
A Magic win would improve their record to 21-53, while simultaneously dropping the Thunder’s record to 20-54, giving OKC hold of a 14.5 percent chance at the top pick and 52.1 percent chance at a top-four pick (with Orlando dropping to 12.5 percent and 48.1 percent).
The Magic, listed as road favorites (-2) for what could be the first time all season, have a slight tanking edge over OKC in remaining strength of schedule (.480 to .474).
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander again is listed as questionable due to ankle soreness despite having scored 31 points on Monday, in what is a bold tanking strategy. Without him on Sunday against the Magic, OKC shot a season-low 32.6 percent in a 90-85 loss.
Wendell Carter Jr., who is listed as questionable for Wednesday’s game due to ankle and wrist sprains, had a huge night against the Thunder on Sunday with a career-high 30 points on 12-for-15 shooting. His teammates combined to shoot just 20-for-68 (29.4 percent).
The Magic will be without Markelle Fultz, who will rest his knee on the second night of a back-to-back. Jalen Suggs, who has missed the last four games with an ankle injury, also is out. Gary Harris is listed as questionable with a knee contusion.
Even without them, the Magic should be able to sweep the season series with the Thunder and finally go on that elusive three-game winning streak that most fans don’t want right now. Well learn over the next few weeks how it impacts them in what is a four-team race for the bottom-three spots.
Who: Oklahoma City Thunder (20-52) at Orlando Magic (20-53)
When: Wednesday at 8 p.m.
Where: Paycom Center - Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
TV: Bally Sports Florida
Line: Magic -2, Over/Under 219.5
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