NBA Power Rankings Week 18: The Magic Might Be Headed To The Playoffs

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It’s been a long and winding road for the Orlando Magic. While there have been a few instances of brief relevance in the recent past, the Magic have been absent from playoff discussions for a long time, with the franchise’s last trip to the postseason happening in 2012 and a period of ugliness spanning the better part of seven seasons. Orlando has only one season of 30-plus victories (2015-16) during that time span and, even if that improved campaign, the Magic fell nine full games out of the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Just a few weeks ago, the Magic appeared to be well on their way to another trip to the lottery, with a 20-31 record after a home loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Jan. 29. Since then, however, Orlando has awakened to an inspiring degree and, at the All-Star Break, there is real optimism surrounding Steve Clifford’s team.

After a 6-16 stretch that culminated in that loss to the Thunder, the Magic have won seven of eight games, including five in a row before the league-wide hiatus. As a result, the good folks at FiveThirtyEight now give Orlando a 62 percent chance to make the postseason and, even with the caveat that the Magic would not be in the field if the season ended today, they are only a half-game out of the No. 8 spot with a relatively encouraging (-1.1) net rating.

In the grand scheme, the Magic don’t necessarily feel like a playoff team, as they’ve been outscored for the season and wouldn’t fit the normal profile of a team bound for the postseason. Still, any scenario in which Orlando would sneak into the field would have to be seen as wildly encouraging, as Nikola Vucevic is leading a team that is overachieving when compared to their overall level of talent.

The Magic could probably use an infusion of lottery talent and that needs to be noted, even as the franchise’s draft track record isn’t stellar in recent years. Still, they are an example of a franchise that might just see the benefit of a quick playoff exit over the (small) chance at draft lottery glory.

Where does Orlando stack up in this week’s DIME power rankings? Let’s explore.
1. Golden State Warriors (41-16, Last week — 1st)

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The Warriors flopped to the tune of a 22-point loss in their final game before the break. That was predictable, at least in retrospect, but that’s not a result that’s going to remove them from the top spot, with apologies to the rest of the league.

2. Milwaukee Bucks (43-14, Last week — 3rd)

It’s a bit weird to see Milwaukee jump Toronto this week but I promise there is a rationale. The Bucks slipped last week as a result of a home loss to Orlando and, honestly, that’s still a bad result. In the big picture, though, Milwaukee is 14-2 in their last 16 games and they have a recent head-to-head win over Toronto. Let’s just see the whole map on this one.

3. Toronto Raptors (43-16, Last week — 2nd)

As noted above, it isn’t as if the Raptors did anything to “earn” this drop. In fact, Toronto has won six in a row. Milwaukee just has a better overall profile and, with the All-Star break arriving, that big-picture view helped to facilitate the swap.

4. Boston Celtics (37-21, Last week — 7th)

Last week, we lamented just how weird the season has been for Boston. In furthering that thought, the Celtics went on the road to beat Philadelphia and followed that with a home win over Detroit before the break. Weird doesn’t always mean bad.

5. Philadelphia 76ers (37-21, Last week — 5th)

Boston leapfrogs Philly this week on the strength of a head-to-head win and that is made more important by the venue. The Sixers did hold serve with a win over the Knicks in their follow-up and that helped to keep things afloat.
6. Oklahoma City Thunder (37-20, Last week — 4th)

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The Thunder slip this week because they lost their last game and that’s just how this works for non-Warriors squads. With that said, OKC is 11-2 in their last 13 and the only two losses came by single-digits on the road. There isn’t much to worry about with the Thunder right now, at least if you believe in Russell Westbrook’s shooting coming back to life in some form.

7. Denver Nuggets (39-18, Last week — 8th)

We punished the Nuggets a bit last week and they responded by taking care of business with a home win over the Kings in their only game before the break. Denver remains very good at basketball and they should be treated as such.

8. Indiana Pacers (38-20, Last week — 6th)

Indy’s six-game winning streak finally came to an end this week and it happened with a thud in the form of a nine-point home loss. To be fair, the Pacers lost to the terrifying Bucks but it’s fair to think that Indiana isn’t shopping in the same aisle as teams with similar overall records.

9. Portland Trail Blazers (34-23, Last week — 12th)

The Blazers encountered a steep drop last week and it was justified. Then, they took full advantage of this week’s slate, using their one contest to knock off the Warriors, and they did so by 22 points. That’s about as impressive as it gets within the regular season.

10. Houston Rockets (33-24, Last week — 9th)

James Harden just keeps scoring and he had 42 points in Houston’s only game this week. The team-wide result wasn’t great, though, as the Rockets lost to the Wolves by double figures. That facilitates a dip in the rankings.
11. Utah Jazz (32-25, Last week — 10th)

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Utah’s overall profile would probably be enough to jump ahead of Houston under normal circumstances, but we’re still only two weeks out from a 27-point home loss to the Rockets. Yikes. That’s one heck of a tiebreaker.

12. Sacramento Kings (30-27, Last week — 11th)

We have only one data point by which to evaluate the Kings this week and it was a two-point road loss in Denver. That isn’t really grounds to drop Sacramento but Portland’s win trickled down to create this (minor) fall.

13. San Antonio Spurs (33-26, Last week — 14th)

It all depends on how you look at it. The Spurs are 6-4 in their last 10 games. The Spurs are also 1-4 in their last five games. The Spurs also won their last game. We’ll learn something about San Antonio on Friday when they return from the break in Toronto against Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors.

14. LA Clippers (32-27, Last week — 15th)

The Clippers have alternated losses and wins in eight consecutive games. If that trend continues with a road loss in Memphis on Friday, we’ll probably have to reevaluate this ranking.

15. Orlando Magic (27-32, Last week — 18th)

Are the Magic actually the 15th-best team in the NBA? Almost certainly not. They’re playing like it right now, though, and that is what we do here.
16. Minnesota Timberwolves (27-30, Last week — 23rd)

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After four straight losses (and six of seven), the Wolves just put together an impressive two-game run. Minnesota beat the Clippers and Rockets and, even with both coming at home, this is a team that is only one game behind the Lakers for playoff positioning. They aren’t dead yet.

17. Brooklyn Nets (30-29, Last week — 19th)

It doesn’t make that much sense for Brooklyn to pass Detroit given their recent results. With that said, the Nets are just better than the Pistons. Sometimes, that is all you need to say.

18. Detroit Pistons (26-30, Last week — 13th)

Detroit’s four-game winning streak came to an end this week and, as noted above, there were also some additional factors that went into the mix here. The Pistons are still in decent shape when it comes to playoff positioning but it’s fair to say they aren’t overly inspiring.
19. Miami Heat (26-30, Last week — 22nd)

Overall, the Heat have lost six of eight and that (obviously) isn’t very good. Miami did knock off Dallas on the road this week, however, and that was enough to make a three-spot jump in the mire that is this section of the rankings.

20. Charlotte Hornets (27-30, Last week — 16th)

Dropping four spots after a week with only one game might seem extreme. It’s worth remembering just how bad the Hornets were in their one appearance, though, as Charlotte lost by 38 points in Orlando on Thursday. Hey, the city made it through the All-Star Game!
21. New Orleans Pelicans (26-33, Last week — 24th)

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What a bizarre mini-week for the Pelicans. First, New Orleans lost (at home) to Orlando by a whopping 30 points. Then, the Pelicans bounced back and beat the Thunder by nine points and they did it with Anthony Davis playing only 16 minutes. Good luck trying to put the pieces together on that one.

22. Los Angeles Lakers (28-29, Last week — 17th)

LeBron and company have lost four of five and that’s bad enough on its own. Then, you remember that the Lakers cratered in memorable fashion with a road loss to the Hawks and the five-spot drop almost feels light.

23. Dallas Mavericks (26-31, Last week — 20th)

The Mavs are 1-3 since the trade deadline and that feels like a new normal, even with any small sample size caveat you want to reference. Dallas lost at home to Miami on Wednesday and that isn’t a great result under any circumstance.

24. Memphis Grizzlies (23-36, Last week — 21st)

After an uptick a week ago, the Grizzlies responded by losing back-to-back games, including a double-digit loss to Chicago. That doesn’t exactly leave everyone in Memphis overly thrilled.

25. Washington Wizards (24-34, Last week — 25th)

Washington stays put after a one-game week that went exactly the way you would think. The Wizards lost a game (at Toronto) that they were supposed to lose and they did so while staying within striking distance. Ho-hum.
26. Chicago Bulls (14-44, Last week — 27th)

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14-44 speaks for itself but Chicago is actually a semi-respectable 4-8 in their last 12 games. That also includes a win this week over the Grizzlies, with Otto Porter enjoying a 37-point breakout along the way.

27. Cleveland Cavaliers (12-46, Last week — 28th)

It was a one-game week for Cleveland and they lost. There are much worse sins than falling to the Nets in triple overtime, though, and the Cavs haven’t been quite as embarrassing lately.

28. New York Knicks (11-47, Last week — 30th)

The Knicks are still horrific and we’ll address the team they beat this week in a moment. New York did stop their impossibly long losing skid and they escape from the basement on the heels of that legendary triumph.

29. Atlanta Hawks (19-39, Last week — 26th)

In a big-picture sense, the Hawks are better than the Knicks and everyone knows it. Atlanta did lose to New York at home before the break, though, and we have to drop them as a result. Them’s the rules.

30. Phoenix Suns (11-48, Last week — 29th)

The Suns haven’t won a basketball game since Jan. 12. The schedule hasn’t been super friendly for Phoenix but let’s just say a 15-game losing streak makes this choice an easy one.