The Orlando Magic probably aren’t looking forward to the All-Star break quite as much as one might think. Sitting firmly at the bottom of the Southeast Division and 21 games under .500, they could enter the hiatus as the hottest team in the Eastern Conference.
Orlando seeks a season-best fourth straight win Wednesday night when it hosts the Memphis Grizzlies, who will go into the break on the outside of the playoff picture a season after reaching the Western Conference finals.
The Magic (16-37) have won five straight at home for the first time in over three years, including the first three of a four-game homestand – and their previous two opponents haven’t exactly been pushovers.
Orlando’s victories over Indiana and Oklahoma City marked the first time in 47 years that a team at least 20 games under .500 beat the clubs with the top two records in the league in back-to-back games.
"There’s just a trust and confidence that is growing inside of us, especially with our young players," Glen Davis told the team’s official website. "They are helping out tremendously – (Maurice Harkless), Tobias (Harris) and Kyle (O’Quinn). We’ve been through a lot this year, especially the month of January, and we want to make sure that we don’t want to feel that pain again. We’re trying to do whatever we can because we want to win."
Both wins were by one point, and Sunday’s 93-92 victory over the Pacers featured a double-digit comeback in the fourth quarter against the league’s best defensive team.
Nikola Vucevic had 19 points and 13 rebounds, while Victor Oladipo scored 13 of his team-high 23 points in the fourth quarter.
"It starts with his enthusiasm for basketball, and it’s really infectious to his teammates," coach Jacque Vaughn said of Oladipo. "They want to play for him, they want to play with him and I’m sure glad he’s in a Magic uniform."
Oladipo has come off the bench for the last three games, which has worked well with the Magic getting an average of 19.0 points from him in the victories.
Very little has worked for the Magic against the West. They’re 4-16 in non-conference games, and they’ve lost five straight to the Grizzlies (28-23), including a 94-85 defeat in Memphis on Dec. 9.
The Grizzlies held on Tuesday for a 92-89 home win over Washington, improving to 8-3 since Jan. 24 – a stretch in which they’ve yielded 88.2 points per game. Still, coach David Joerger said his team is ready for a mental breather.
"Mentally, we’re tired," Joerger said. "We messed up in some plays coming out of timeouts where guys didn’t go to the right spot. We lost some balls normally we don’t lose. But at the end of the day, we got 11 different times in the course of the game we got three stops in a row. It was really all about our defense."
Marc Gasol and Nick Calathes each scored 18, while Zach Randolph, Courtney Lee and James Johnson added 13 apiece.
Calathes, filling in for the injured Mike Conley, is averaging 15.2 points on 53.5 percent shooting in six starts since the beginning of the month after cracking double figures twice in the first 34 games of his career.
"Ninety-eight percent of the time, he makes the right play and the right pass," Joerger said. "What he’s doing right now in leading this ballclub is absolutely tremendous."
Conley was considered a game-time call against the Wizards, as was Tony Allen, who has been out since Jan. 5 with a hand injury.