Orlando reached a low point on Jan. 29, when a loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder dropped the Magic 11 games under .500.
Since then, they have gone 20-9, ascending to the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference on Friday night with their best offensive performance of the season, smashing the Atlanta Hawks 149-113 to end their home schedule.
The Magic need one more victory to earn their first playoff berth since 2012.
The playoff push continues Sunday at Boston, which is coming off a 117-97 victory at Indiana that gave the Celtics sole possession of fourth place in the East over the Pacers. Those teams are almost certain to meet in the first round of the playoffs, with Boston (48-32) holding a one-game edge (plus the head-to-head tiebreaker) for home-court advantage over Indiana.
Until winning Friday night, Orlando (40-40) hadn’t been .500 since Dec. 4, when it was 12-12.
“The atmosphere in the building was fantastic and from the second the ball was jumped up, each guy just felt so locked in,” forward Jonathan Isaac said on NBA.com. “I even said it this morning — how locked in I felt we were at shootaround with shots falling and everybody being in a great mood this morning. It definitely carried over to the game.”
The five-team battle for the final three playoffs spots in the East could go down to the wire. Brooklyn moved into a tie with Orlando for sixth with a win Saturday at East-leading Milwaukee. Detroit is a half-game behind in eighth place.
The Nets and Pistons each own the head-to-head tiebreaker against Orlando, which otherwise has some breathing room because it has the tiebreaker on ninth-place Miami (38-41), which is 1 1/2 games behind the Magic. Charlotte (37-42) is sitting one game further back of the Heat.
One more Orlando win — or another loss by Miami and Charlotte — guarantees the Magic will be in the postseason.
“We have to understand that while we’re obviously close, nothing is finished yet. We have to take care of these next two games,” Magic All-Star center Nikola Vucevic, who had his 59th double-double this season, said on NBA.com. “We’re going to have to bring a good energy to get the job done.”
Orlando went 25-16 at home, ending on a nine-game home winning streak, its longest in-season streak in 10 years. The team set a franchise record with 81 first-half points against Atlanta.
The Magic will try to carry that momentum on the road against a Boston team that is 28-12 at home.
A recent positive sign for the Celtics: Gordon Hayward has scored 46 points in back-to-back games, including 21 on Friday night, when he made 9 of 9 shots from the field and all three of his free throw attempts. He became the first Celtics player to have 20 points while not missing a shot since Kevin McHale in 1986.
None of Hayward’s shots came from behind the arc, which reminded him of his days with the Utah Jazz before a devastating leg injury in his first game with Boston last season.
“That’s a lot of what I did in Utah,” Hayward said of his effort Friday night. “Finishing in the lane there with different types of finishes: off one foot, two feet, fading back, leaning in, different things like that. So some of it’s just kind of slowly coming back.”
–Field Level Media