NBA

NBA AM: Can The Magic Continue To Win?

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OK, Now What:  The Orlando Magic have done the improbable. After amassing 14 wins in 51 tries, in the span of the weekend the Magic have taken down the top two teams in the NBA, overcoming 17-point deficits against both the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday and the Indiana Pacers last night.

After the game last night in Orlando, one media member leaned into a Magic player and asked jokingly “Isn’t this a rebuilding team? This isn’t the plan.” The player looked up from his locker and smiled coyly.

Two games does not a season make, but what these two wins have done is prove to the players inside the Magic locker room that they can win when they apply themselves defensively, and they can play with anyone in the NBA, even the top two teams in the game.

After both games, the opposing teams gave credit to the Magic’s second unit – a defensive dynamo that’s been holding team’s best players to single digits in the fourth quarter, in this case the high scoring Kevin Durant and the super potent Paul George.

Shockingly the Magic are only seven games behind the eighth seeded Charlotte Bobcats, which was a running joke in the Magic locker room after the game. Magic forward Kyle O’Quinn pleaded mockingly with his teammate Glen “Big Baby” Davis to “take me to the playoffs, baby… please. I wanna taste the playoffs too.”

While clearly all in jest, the Magic have not lost sight of who they really are after a handful of wins on their home court. What has surfaced is a confidence in each other and trust among the younger guys that continues to grow with each new conquest.

»In Related: The Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects in 2014.

The Magic have been taking about the “steps in the process” and that as much as individuals may want to short-cut that process, it is a learning curve that each player and the roster as a unit must endure to get to the point where they can compete. As much as some players in the locker room would love to see the winning continue, they understand how much home court has helped them and how badly they have played on the road.

Confidence for a young team is huge, and there is no doubt that there is a little swagger and positive energy around the Magic after two highly improbable wins, but there is a reality that two wins isn’t going to change the overall course of the season. The plan in place is to let the young guys learn and grow and given the talent level of those young guys, wins are going to come from that as they learn to trust each other. Equally, because of their inexperience losses are going to come with that too.

It’s been a fun weekend for the Magic players. You can see it in their eyes, you can see it in the bounce they have after games. There is a reality that this isn’t how the season is going to play out, but it is OK for young players to dream a little even if making the playoffs is not part of the plan.

IN RELATED: With the NBA trade deadline just 10 days away things around the Magic are heating up on the trade front. Not necessarily because the Magic are making a ton of outgoing calls, but because there are several would-be suitors for Magic guard Arron Afflalo. The problem for the Magic, or the teams trying to extract Afflalo from the team, is that Orlando really does not seem overly interested in trading Afflalo. Several teams that have made passes at Orlando classify them as listening to offers, engaging in the normal due diligence that teams engage in to understand what’s possible and available at the deadline, but that serious offers are not being considered and that real trade scenarios are not taking place. This could be a case of the Magic playing a little poker in the days leading up to the deadline or it genuinely could be that the Magic are not going to make a trade involving their best player. A lot of conversations will take place over the next ten days, so things can and often do take a different tone after the All-Star break, but if the Magic’s stance today is any indicator do not be surprised if the Magic hold the line and finish the season with what they have on the roster and explore trades and real moves in the off-season.

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Taking It Slow With Bynum:  An informal survey of the players in the Indiana Pacers locker room yielded pretty much the same response with regards to new Pacer big man Andrew Bynum. Shoulder shrugs.

The Pacers inked Bynum to a one-year deal last week worth a reported $1 million for the balance of the season. As one Pacer insider put it, “its low risk, high reward”.

Bynum has spent one day with the Pacers and has been allowed to deal with some personal issues that sources close to the situation say involve an ailing family member. The Pacers are taking a very slow and deliberate approach with Bynum, looking to work with him on physical therapy and strength and conditioning with one goal in mind – have him ready for the postseason.

»In Related: The Indiana Pacers Team Salary Page.

The Pacers are not expecting much from Bynum and it’s clear that the players in the locker room want to see him put in the work before they buy into him being anything to the team.

The one thing that was clear in talking to Pacer players is that there hasn’t been much of a need to police behavior inside the locker room. Each guy on the team understands what’s at stake and what needs to be done. Pacers big man David West said that there hasn’t been anything notable all year and that everyone has sold out to the cause and bought into the program.

Before Bynum gets a seat at their table, he is going to have to prove that he’ll do the work to be part of the unit.

One Pacer insider said that there would be a low tolerance for Bynum, that if he does not come in and work hard that he could just as easily be gone as he was brought in and that nothing was promised to Bynum other than the chance to come in and work and earn a chance to be part of team trying to win something.

The first step for Bynum is strength training and rehab. There is a belief that that’s going to happen soon, from there is will be about how hard he works to get into condition and from there the coaching staff will decide if he gets minutes and when.

The Pacers plan from the beginning is to have him ready for the postseason. They are not overly interested in trying to fast track or accelerate that. The view Bynum as an all-upside project, but it will be on him to earn the trust of a team that’s been together for a while and to get his body and mind behind what Indiana is trying to do.

The Pacers’ players were extremely complimentary of him, but cautioned he’d spent one day around the team, so they want to see what he does to prepare before they create a seat at the table for him.

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The Tough Road For Cleveland:  Making the playoffs matters. As much as fans may love the idea of landing top tier draft picks or may understand all too well that being the eighth seed usually means an early exit, but there are real non-basketball benefits to making the postseason that even marginal teams covet.

Season ticket sales go up when a team makes the playoffs. TV and radio rights deals go up when a team makes the playoffs. Advertising and corporate sales go up when teams make the playoffs and most importantly it is a lot easier to get an existing roster to buy into the plan when the playoffs are the result. The same is true of free agency. Free agents tend to look at playoff bound teams a little more attractively than lottery bound teams.

»In Related: Should The Cavs Trade Kyrie Irving?

‘A rising tide will lift all boats’, is an expression about mutual benefits and the playoffs for almost every team in sports is exactly that. Everything gets better when you make the postseason.

So as the Cleveland Cavaliers parted ways with general manager Chris Grant last week and appointed former assistant GM David Griffin to the post of interim GM, there is a singular goal at play: Make the playoffs.

As Griffin addressed the media about his mindset it was clear that Cleveland is not throwing in the towel and that fire sale in Cleveland is not coming, unless the outgoing players return better talent.

“I don’t see how you get better and win more games selling,” Griffin said to reporters. “We’re going to buy to the extent that it makes us better for the long haul. I don’t think we’re going to do anything that’s an act of desperation. I think we’re going to be willing to buy the right asset at the right price. We are dedicated 100 percent from top to bottom to getting better and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Griffin said he still believed in the roster he helped assemble as the assistant general manager, but acknowledged that some things needed to change.

“We lost our mojo somewhere,” Griffin said. “We lost our way somehow. We have compelling talent.

“I want to see us smile more. I want to see us enjoy this. I want to see us remember this is a game. I want to see us remember that there’s passion involved in this. We’re not robots. Nobody is flawless. We’ve all made mistakes.”

Griffin is expected to finish out the season as the general manager and will get a chance to keep the job long-term as the team embarks on a search for a new permanent leader this summer.

“I want to do that which puts us in the best position to be successful,” Griffin said. “We’ll analyze every opportunity and we’ll look for every opportunity that does that for us.

“I’m here right now. Dan (Gilbert) has shown faith in me. He’s put me in a position to be very successful right now. I have full latitude to do this job.”

There has already been a mountain of speculation about who the Cavs will contact in the offseason, however Cavs sources said that dealing with the immediate problems is what’s most pressing and that while Griffin will lead the way on many fronts a lot of the decisions that will be made, especially regarding trades, will be made in a collective effort that will include Gilbert.

The Cavaliers are 18-33 on the season which puts them three games out of the playoff picture in the East. The Cavs have won two straight, but just three of their last ten games.

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About Steve Kyler

Steve Kyler

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.