Season Preview: It's a Marathon, not a Sprint

The Orlando Magic 2018-19 campaign ended on a relatively high note. One that allowed the Magic organization and its fans to see the playoffs after a seven-year drought. The 2018-19 season proved to many Magic fans that the 82-game long season is a marathon and not a sprint. The Magic finished last season above .500 at 42-40. Orlando's postseason was ultimately ended in 5 games by the 2019 NBA World Champions, the Toronto Raptors after a dagger by DJ Augustin during Game 1 at the Scotia Bank Arena. During the first-round series, the Raptors exposed many areas that Orlando needed to improve upon to be a serious contender.

After taking all of the lessons learned in the playoffs the Magic move ahead into a new season. A season with fresh ambition and a clean slate. With this coming 19-20 season, the Orlando Magic will have the least amount of back-to-backs that they have played in the last five seasons; A total of 11 with 4 of the back-to-backs happening on the road. The Magic have an evenly distributed schedule ahead of them (strength of schedule). As the season looms closer, we will dive into the schedule in segments.

First stretch 22 games (November 23rd - December 6th, 2019)

The Magic should start the season well above .500. The Magic will open the season at home against the Cleveland Cavaliers, kicking off a season where nine of the Magics' first 13 games will be played at home. Interesting enough, 10 of the first 22 games will be against teams who finished below .500 last season. This will be a great opportunity for the Magic season to get off to a hot start.

Through the first 22 games, the Magic will face a few teams who will play without their superstar/all-star from the prior season. The Magic will face the Raptors, this time without the Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard three times during the first 22 games, twice in Toronto (October 28th & November 20th) and in Orlando November 29th. They will also play the Cavaliers three times (October 23rd [Home Opener], November 27th, & December 6th) and the Washington Wizards twice (November 17th, December 3rd). The Magic will also play the OKC Thunder in Oklahoma City, November 5th without Paul George and Russell Westbrook.

The four games that will be indicators of the Magic development in the first 22 games are the games against the Milwaukee Bucks on November 1st, Denver Nuggets on November 2nd, Spurs on November 15th, and Golden State Warriors December 1st. These are the games that most NBA fans will have slated as losses. If the Magic can win half of these four games, two of which are against Western Conference staples, Spurs and Warriors, these will be “tone” setting games going into the season. It will also be a buffer for the very difficult second stretch of games.

Projected Scenario: The Magic push to finish the first 22 games 15-7.

Holiday Season Break (December 9th 2019 - January 27th 2020)

Unlike the first 22 games where the Magic played 10 games against teams who posted a losing record last season. Their next 25 game stretch will be 15 games against teams who finished last season with a winning record. During these stretch of games, the Magic will take two long road trips, which are hard on every team but will be even harder on this young core who will be introducing, hopefully, a healthy Markelle Fultz into the lineup.

The Magic will have an away game on December 9th against the Milwaukee Bucks then will return home for two big games against the Los Angeles Lakers on December 11th and the Houston Rockets December 13th (Who many expect will be NBA Championship contenders).

The first road trip will be December 15 - 20 with games against New Orleans, a tough back-to-back against Utah followed by Denver (this will be a situation where we may split the season series with Denver), then finishing up the trip against Portland and their dynamic offense with Superstar Damian Lillard at the helm.

The second road trip, which will be the longest of the season, has the Magic will play the Phoenix Suns January 10th, the Sacramento Kings January 13th, Los Angeles Lakers January 15th, followed by the new-look Los Angeles Clippers January 16th on the second night of a back-to-back, then head to Northern California to play the Golden State Warriors January 18th, and finishing the road trip in Charlotte to face the Hornets on January 20th. If the Magic can finish 2-2 during the California portion of that trip, one of those wins will be against a team the rest of the NBA thinks will be in the Western Conference Finals.

During the second segment of games, the Magic will face teams who have either added NBA All-stars to their rosters or who have new personnel on their coaching staff. The Magic will face the new-look Lakers, new point guard backed Jazz, and the Kawhi and Paul George powered Clippers twice during this stretch. Orlando will also face in conference contenders Boston Celtics for the first time, who have added Kemba Walker, the Brooklyn Nets and their new point guard Kyrie Irving.

This will be the stretch of games that can make or break the season. But this is also the point in the season where the players, and coaches, are looking forward to the All-Star break. If Clifford can keep the team together, this could be a time when the squad picks up crucial wins.

Projected Scenario, the Magic finish 15 -10.

Rush to All-Star Break (January 27th - February 12th 2020)

This is the shortest of all the segments, but this is also the time when movement happens. Movement in conference standing and within team rosters. By this point, most teams’ cut their losses and begin the “tanking” or look to add to their contender rosters. During this stretch, if the Magic are in the “best-case scenario”, they should be 30-17, well above .500. During this 8 game stretch, the Magic will only play against three teams who reached the playoffs; Boston, Detroit, and Milwaukee. The other teams are opponents who are still rebuilding. During this stretch of 8 games, the Magic will play four games at home and 4 games away.

Through this rush to the All-Star break the Magic will face off against the Miami Heat twice, and once against the Hornets, Celtics, Knicks, Bucks, Hawks, and the Pistons.

Projected Scenario: the Magic shoot to finish strong heading into the All-Star break and achieve a 6-2 record.

Final Sprint (February 21st - April 15th 2020)

Most casual NBA fans hate the final sprint of the season, but as a fan of the Steve Clifford’s era of Orlando Magic basketball, this is the segment of the season that Steve Clifford’s teams' seal playoff push. The Magic will play 27 games in this stretch. 13 of the 27 games will be home games and will only have two back-to-backs. During this block of games, the Magic will play 13 games against teams who reached the playoffs last season.

It will be hard to speculate where every team will fall during this part of the season, but one could stand to reason that the Magic will be in the top half of the standings. This last stretch is a true sprint to the playoffs as some teams coast into the offseason and other teams gear up for the playoffs, with 8 of the final 27 games against Eastern Conference teams it will be pivotal for Orlando to win those games. During this stretch, there are no long road trips to worry about. Most of the games are two days apart giving some time for recovery and game-planning, which will allow for playoff-like preparation.

Projected Scenario: The Magic finish at home 7-6 and 8-6 on the road, closing out the last sprint to the playoffs at a 15-12 record.

Looking at the 2019-20 schedule, the schedule is trending in a positive direction for the Magic. The Magic will face Bulls, Knicks, Pistons, and 76ers three times each, making for a slightly unbalanced schedule. That means if the Magic win the regular-season series against these opponents (2-1) that will play out well for the Magics' Eastern Conference seeding come playoff time.

The Magic will only see 11 back-to-backs this season in comparison to the 14 they saw the year before. Also, the Magic will have their long road trips before the All-Star break which should help with fatigue and durability down the stretch of the season.

If our projections materialize, the Orlando Magic will finish off this season 51-31. In comparison to last season's final season standing (42 - 40), 51-31 would place the Magic at third in the conference (where the 76ers finished) and 7th in the league standings.

This could be a huge year for Clifford’s young core. And if the squad needs extra motivation, the Magic will only have one nationally televised game, March 4th on ESPN against in-state rivals, the Miami Heat. This coming season will be a roller coaster ride and we cannot wait to cheer our boys on!

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Elise ClyburnComment