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2012 was a year Orlando Magic fans will never forget. 2012 marked Dwight Howard’s final season in Orlando before being traded and it also would be the last time the Magic made it to the NBA playoffs this decade.
To say things have been tough to be a Magic fan would be an understatement. Over the following 6 seasons since the Dwight Howard trade, they compiled an overall record of 194-37, becoming one of the worst teams in the league during that span. The Magic went from a perennial playoff contender to a fixture in the draft lottery every year. With the new addition of former University of Texas center Mo Bamba, the development of Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isacc, and new head coach in Steve Clifford, there were a lot of questions as to just how good this team can be. Because of that, expectations were low coming into this season, even despite a now weakened Eastern Conference than usual after the departure of LeBron James in the offseason to the Western conference.
The big question coming into the 2018-2019 season was could they compete for the playoffs, or would they return to the lottery? They began the season with a 104-101 victory in Orlando against their inner-state rival the Miami Heat before losing 5 out of the next 6 games to round out the month of October. To most fans, this season was just going to be more of the same, until it wasn’t. While the Magic have been inconsistent at times this season, they have shown when they lock in defensively they can compete with just about any team in the league.
The team’s fortune began to change when Center Nikola Vučević was voted to the 2019 All-Star Game. Vučević has been a consistent double-double threat in his career since arriving in Orlando in the blockbuster trade that sent Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers. “Vooch” has been one of the most underrated players in the league, expanding his game from just a traditional back to the basket center to a more modern NBA center who is mobile and can spread the floor. The selection was long overdue, as the Magic have not had an All-Star since 2012, the last time the event was held in Orlando as well.
The selection has seemed to reinvigorate not only the roster but the fanbase as well. The Magic have posted a record of 13-8 since the All-Star break, having victories over top teams including the Golden State Warriors, Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers. After their huge comeback win in Miami on Tuesday night, they’ve won 8 of their last 10 games. During this streak they have been one of the best defensive teams league, being in the top 3 in categories such as defensive efficiency and opponent 3 point percentage. Head Coach Steve Clifford’s emphasis on defense and accountability and the late season addition of former 2014 Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams have set the tone for how they want to play, which could make them a possible threat in the first round of the playoffs.
The Magic now currently sit in the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference with an overall record of 39-40, and, along with the Brooklyn Nets, only a half-game the Detroit Pistons for 6th. ESPN’s Basketball Power Index (BPI) which ranks statistics such as winning percentage combined with the strength of schedule, has them with an 88.3% chance to make the playoffs. The postseason feels closer now than at any other point in years, and this is something the city has been desperately eager for. The fans are loyal and there is a special feeling in the city when the team is winning. Coach Clifford — who was an assistant on the 2009 Finals Magic squad — even acknowledged how important the fans are stating in an interview on February 27th “Listen. [Getting the Magic back in the playoff hunt] was one of the reasons that I was excited about this opportunity. I know what a great fanbase we have because I experienced it when I was here before.”
It is clear to everyone from the players and staff to the fans, that the Orlando Magic are no longer a pushover and are going to be a force to be reckoned with the near future his team is different. The young core looks more promising every night and Vooch has become one of the top players in the league. A playoff berth this season would bring great joy to the city and would undoubtedly make Orlando an attractive destination for free agents. The Magic seems ready for the task to and once again bring joy to the Magic Kingdom.