The Orlando Magic Are the East’s Cinderella Team of 2018-19

The rebuild is over in Orlando, and the time is now for Jonathan Isaac and the Victorious B.I.G. whom for the second time in three nights displayed surprising resilience against a contender for the Eastern Conference throne on their respective home court.

The Orlando Magic led throughout Monday night’s contest with the Boston Celtics with suffocating defense, and with the heroics of the blossoming Jonathan Isaac, whose breakout performance culminated with this game-winning shot. Isaac finished the night with his first career double-double, putting up 18 points, 12 rebounds and one steal on 8 of12 shooting, and a +7, in what could be the start of something special for the 2017-18 sixth overall pick.

Two nights prior, the Orlando Magic got out to a fast start and almost upended Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers, who only managed to escape the Magic’s clutches via a franchise-tying 17 three-pointers, and a career bench-shooting night from JJ Redick (31 points, 8 of 13 from three). Redick and Embiid both would throttle the late game heroics of Terrence Ross, who tied the game on this jaw-dropping bomb from halfcourt.

Isaac was not alone in his impressive performance this weekend. Nikola Vucevic, ever the subject of trade speculation, followed up his spectacular triple-double on Saturday (27/13/12), with another standout performance (24/12).

With a career-high in assists, Evan Fournier followed up his hot shooting on Saturday night (31 points), with a 14/10/16 line against the Celtics and the competent defense of Jaylen Brown.

DJ Augustin continues to display his steadying hand over the Magic’s offense. The Magic offense has come out to blistering starts in their previous contests.




Magic’s presumed breakout star, Aaron Gordon, underwhelmed in a disappointing performance against Clifford’s former Hornet squad, as did many, but he and Magic rookie Mo Bamba played their best on opening night, where the bench would prove critical in reversing a 13 point Miami Heat advantage into a 104-101 victory.

In fact, Aaron Gordon and Mo Bamba make up 40 percent of the NBA’s most devastating five man lineup, albeit in a small sample size. In 42 minutes, the lineup of Jerian Grant-Terrence Ross-Jonathan Simmons-Aaron Gordon-Mo Bamba carries a ridiculous NBA best 70.6 Defensive Rating.

The Magic carry elite-level defensive versatility at every position, with the much-desired penchant for switching at any position. The Magic make up for inefficient shooting with their relentless stronghold on the opponent’s side of the floor.

While the Magic suffered a defeat to the aforementioned 76ers as Ross game-clinching three fell haplessly short on Saturday night, the Magic are foregoing any ‘moral victories.’

“We played better and should have won the game, but we made two huge, huge defensive game plan mistakes late that we had defended the whole game,” Clifford told reporters after the game. “You can’t make those mistakes and win on the road against a good team…So whatever, we played better, but that’s not what this league is about. That’s a game right there that was there to be won. There were plays to be made and you’ve got to make them.’’

So two nights later, it was Isaac shedding a defender at the three-point line and calmly stepping into his 15-footer for the win and the improbable upset of the East’s prohibitive offseason favorite, the Boston Celtics.

At 2-2, with wins over playoff contenders in Miami and Boston, the Orlando Magic are quickly becoming a conversation starter as a dark-horse candidate in the Eastern Conference.

Not the most glamorous watch by any stretch, the Magic sit 28th in offensive rating, 26th in pace, and 29th in points scored.

But under head coach Steve Clifford, the Magic have improved in Defensive Rating from 18th to 10th, holding three of their four opponents under 41% shooting.

You’ve surely heard the narrative by now. Clifford’s Hornets improved by 22 wins in his first season, and the Magic began the 2017-18 season at a mark of 8-4 before losing their starting five and Jonathan Isaac for nearly 200 games due to a rash of injuries the likes of which would prohibit them from any chance at competing in the Eastern Conference.

The evidence to suggest the Magic are the surprise team in the Eastern Conference is right there for the taking, and yet no one is taking the bait at ESPNCBS Sports, or anywhere else for that matter.

But, through four games, the Orlando Magic currently have a hold of the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference, and the semblance of a chance to shed the ‘rebuilding’ label and contend for a playoff spot sooner rather than later.

Follow Preston Ellis on Twitter @PrestonEllis 

Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Listen to “Orlando Magic Season Preview” on Spreaker.

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