Here we go Orlando Magic fans….the playoffs start today!
For the first time since 2012 we are part of the postseason, having finished in the 7th seed position with a winning record of 42-40.
Before we look at our playoff matchup let’s take a moment to reflect on what a turnaround our team has seen this season.
In the 2017-18 season under our then coach Frank Vogel we finished with a heavy loss record of 25-57. We all know what an injury hit season we had but that is only a fraction of the story.
I personally feel that our coach; Steve Clifford should be in the running for Coach of the Year for the core change of work ethic & culture he has brought to our squad. The improvements in many of our players can be traced directly to what Coach Clifford brings, a team built on a strong defensive base with players knowing their role & responsibility, challenging the individual to be better & an honesty by all where mistakes are made or performance is poor.
This change has allowed Nikola Vucevic to become one of the best big men in the NBA & becoming an All-Star for the first time this season. Bleacher Report have recently published a list of the best 50 players in the NBA, ranking him at 17th.
Jonathan Isaac has become a huge threat on both ends of the court in his second season.
DJ Augustin has been a revelation as our opening point guard. He remains underrated by many.
Aaron Gordon has also seen good development, improving his shot selection but most impressive is his defensive efficiency when you consider he is given the opposing team’s top players to guard every game. In the Bleacher Report Top 50 Players list 00AG was listed as just being outside the rankings but as being a very difficult omission.
I could go further & talk about the consistency of effort & contributions of Khem Birch, Wes Iwundu, Michael Carter-Williams & others but that is perhaps for another time.
I can’t ignore one player finally though, the Human Torch; TFlight31, Terence Ross! He has played all his games this season coming off the bench, hitting 217 3 point shots, becoming the first player to start every game on the bench & hit over 200 3’s. Then consider that TRoss has also been fouled shooting the 3 pointer the second most in the NBA resulting in a 4 point opportunity or 3 free throws, where his efficiency is 87.5%. His contributions should earn him a handsome contract during the summer.
So now to our 7 game matchup in the first round of the playoffs, the Toronto Raptors.
This is without any doubt a tough series for us as they are a fancied team to reached the finals. Their squad is packed with playoff experience & top players. The Raptors feature 5 players in the Bleacher Report Top 50 list & have Serge Ibaka in the list of difficult omissions as well. The Raptors have of recent years consistently made the postseason but have a reputation for under performing.
After elimination last season in the conference semifinals having been swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers the Raptors front office made some bold moves.
First they fired the then Coach of the Year Dwayne Casey, promoting Nick Nurse from within the organisation. They then made a huge & risky trade which included sending All-Star DeMar DeRozan to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for Danny Green & All-Star Kawhi Leonard.
A Fancied Squad
The acquisition of Leonard was seen as a risk as he reportedly wanted to be traded to LA. With only a year remaining on his contract at that time he could if he chose at the end of this season walk away from them, as he becomes an unrestricted free agent. However the Raptors have gone all in on keeping his services by surrounding him with quality. In January they made a further trade to acquire Marc Gasol & Jeremy Lin.
The Raptors squad also boasts Kyle Lowry, a superb point guard who has seen his role change since Leonard’s arrival & has adapted brilliantly. Danny Green is a player we have to stop playing, his 3 point barrage against us on April 2nd heavily contributed to our loss in that game.
Serge Ibaka had a season which saw him reestablish himself as a dominant big man. He was traded to the Raptors by ourselves in exchange for Terrence Ross, a piece of business that worked out well for both teams. I don’t feel we saw the best of Serge in his time at Orlando, I remain unconvinced he ever wanted to be part of our team.
Pascal Siakam was in my opinion unlucky not to make the All-Star Game this season & is being spoke about as being in the running for Most Improved Player having had a career year.
Add into the mix the ever effective Marc Gasol, Fred VanVleet, Jeremy Lin & Norman Powell & it becomes clear what a task is facing us.
Please don’t get me wrong, this isn’t all doom & gloom on our prospects. Many NBA commentators are seeing us as being capable of going toe-to-toe with the Raptors & possibly causing an upset.
Since January we rate highly in the NBA in the power rankings & statistics, defensively one of the best. In our regular season games we are 2-2 with the Raptors.
It should not be overlooked that due to the multi-team dogfight we found ourselves in to get into the playoffs we have arguably been playing knockout basketball since February.
We go into tonight on a 4 game winning streak, having won 8 of our last 10 games. In Coach Clifford, DJ, TRoss & MCW we have playoff experience & voices who can express this to the other guys. If we could come back to the Amway for games 3 & 4 having took a road win then this would be an interesting series.
Game 1 has a U.K. friendly tip off time of 10pm, being broadcast on Sky Sports Arena & as always on the NBA League Pass. Sky are also live streaming the game for free. One interesting fact here is that each time the Magic have been on a live Sky Sports broadcast this season we’ve won the game!
Speaking of games 3 & 4 Mikey, Geraint & myself here at the Orlando Magic UK will be flying out to Orlando for those games. The Amway is sold out & we were fortunate enough to get tickets to both fixtures. I think the atmosphere will be stunning, it will personally be my first experience of a playoff game.
We will be posting updates on both our Facebook &Twitter accounts. We hope to meet a lot more of you & intend to be on Church Street prior to both games. Once we know details we will update you on meet-ups.
For now LETS GO MAGIC! Let’s start this right by getting the W. This is an exciting time to be an Orlando Magic fan.