On the last day of the NBA season, there were three teams still in the mix for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, and a fourth just looking to get in the playoff picture. Heading into Wednesday night’s slate of games, the Nets were in sixth, the Magic were in seventh, the Pistons were in eighth, and the Hornets were in ninth. The stage was set for something to happen.
And so it did.
First, the Nets put Dwyane Wade’s NBA career to rest by beating the Heat, 113-94. This secured them the sixth seed outright, and a date with the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round. Good luck, D’Angelo Russell!
Second, the Pistons — with Blake Griffin absent due to legitimate injury — annihilated the New York Knicks, 115-89. This forked the outcome tree in two ways: the win kept Detroit in the playoff picture, and the Hornets out of it; but it also meant the only way they’d be able to move up to seventh was if the Magic managed to lose to, ah yes, those very same Charlotte Hornets.
Which brings us to number three: the Magic beating the Hornets 122-114. With the win, Orlando locked themselves into the seventh seed. And, as if to recall their namesake, the Magic will shortly disappear because, abracadabra, they’ll play the Raptors in the first round. (The Pistons, meanwhile, get the Bucks.)
The 2018-19 regular season saw the Raptors and Magic play four times, splitting the season series 2-2. Toronto struck first in an ugly 93-91 win highlighted by a delightful buzzer-beating jumper from Danny Green. Then the Magic got even — twice — by mashing the Raptors, 116-87 and 113-98. Finally, on April 1st, Toronto set the record straight and beat up on the Magic, 121-109. Now, each of the first three contests had something off about it for Toronto — a completely different bench, an absent Jonas Valanciunas, a missing Kawhi Leonard and brand new Marc Gasol — and the romping win at the end represents more accurately how things should go between Toronto and Orlando.
But still we wait. Terrence Ross, a man we all know and love (or tolerate) in Toronto, is having a great year for the Magic; Nikola Vucevic is a big man and hard to contain; and they do indeed have a lot of athleticism and length in players like Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac. This is to say nothing of the presence of D.J. Augustin, the undead starting point guard. Still, by net rating the Magic rank 14th in the league, putting them on the quality bubble as a playoff team. It’s a single metric, but for our purposes, it works.
So for now, let’s relax and see what the schedule has in store.