When the league resumed the 2019-20 season, the Magic sat eighth in the East with a 5.5-lead on the Wizards. That gave Orlando a pretty healthy cushion, and Washington's postseason hopes took a huge hit when a lingering shoulder injury ruled Bradley Beal out of the restart.
Under normal circumstances, the Magic would almost universally be pegged for a first-round exit, but the present circumstances lead to an air of unpredictability.
Players have had to sit at home for four-plus months before resuming play in the middle of what otherwise would've been the offseason. Home-court advantage is nonexistent too, since teams are playing at neutral sites in Florida.
Of course, Orlando will be big underdogs nonetheless in an opening-round matchup with the Milwaukee Bucks or Toronto Raptors. As things stand, the Magic trail the Nets by 1.5 games for the No. 7 seed following their loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday.
After making the playoffs in 2019, the Magic attempted to build upon their current roster rather than tearing it down in pursuit of a higher postseason ceiling. They gave Nikola Vucevic a four-year, $100 million extension while signing Al-Farouq Aminu and retaining Terrence Ross.
Rather than improving—or at least standing pat—Orlando has gone backward.
The absence of a true No. 1 scorer is glaring.
Evan Fournier is enjoying a career year, averaging 18.4 points and shooting 46.8 percent from the field and 40 percent from beyond the arc. In a playoff series, though, an opposing team will inevitably make him a focus of its defensive game plan.
The 27-year-old averaged just 12.4 points and went 8-of-34 from three-point territory when Orlando lost to the Toronto Raptors in the first round last year.
The breakthrough for Aaron Gordon has never arrived either, and he's sidelined with a hamstring injury. The sixth-year forward is a solid scorer and rebounder but not the kind of singular difference-maker who can regularly lift his team in big games.
Perhaps head coach Steve Clifford will catch lightning in a bottle this summer and guide his team to the second round or beyond. More likely, the Magic's postseason result will serve as another reminder that the team requires a rebuild or a major reshuffle to eventually take the next step.