Even the harshest critics of the return Orlando got in the Dwight Howard deal had to concede this: The Magic’s own horrid play would land them at least one really good shot at the no. 1 pick, the most valuable commodity in the sport. Even if the mid-tier players and mid-tier picks the Magic received from Denver and Philadelphia didn’t work out as hoped, they’d at least have their own stockpile of lottery deliciousness.
But after a 5-10 start that featured some ugly blowouts and a key injury to Jameer Nelson, the Magic have moved to 12-13 and injected themselves into the playoff race. John Hollinger gives the Magic a 71 percent chance of snagging a playoff spot, even though a relatively easy early-season schedule has helped fuel this solid start. It’s a fair question now: Could the Magic actually make the playoffs? Three trends suggest it might not be so crazy, even if executives and scouts around the league are almost universally skeptical — for reasons both of talent and motivation as we approach the trade deadline.