ORLANDO – Back in late September, early October when the Orlando Magic, their G League affiliate in Lakeland and the Orlando Solar Bears were getting ready to start their respective 2018-19 seasons, all three DeVos family-owned teams foresaw playoffs down the pike.
Based on how hard each of the teams worked over the prior summer, why shouldn’t they have believed that to be the case?
For the Orlando Magic, the hiring of Steve Clifford was the first of several steps into making a playoff push a reality. Clifford, an assistant coach with the Magic when they advanced to the NBA Finals in 2009, brought accountability to a group desperate for some fine-tuning after several straight disappointing years.
The Lakeland Magic, meanwhile, who got a taste of the playoffs in their first year of existence, were confident they were equipped to take another major stride. After making several widely-applauded roster additions, the Magic’s G League affiliate appeared to have the pieces in place to go even further in 2019 under the tutelage of Head Coach Stan Heath.
The Solar Bears, who like Lakeland made the playoffs in their first year under the DeVos family’s leadership, were eager to resume their excellence on the ice. With this being their first year working side by side with the Tampa Bay Lightning, one of the winningest teams in the NHL this decade, the Bears were poised to play a physical, aggressive brand of hockey, while developing their young, blossoming talent.
With each team now able to reflect back on their seasons, it’s fair to say all three accomplished a great deal and have plenty to be proud of. The Orlando Magic ended their playoff drought, Lakeland reached the conference finals, and the Solar Bears made it to the conference semifinals for the second straight season.
Together, they also made Central Florida a better place for children to grow up in. In March, they raised money for youth during the inaugural Orlando Wine Festival & Auction, which featured private vintner dinners, an auction of exclusive offerings, a festival of luxury, and a VIP game-day experience with the Magic.
Let’s take a deeper dive now into all the DeVos family-owned teams including Magic Gaming, who are in the middle of their second season in the NBA 2K League.
What we learned, perhaps more than anything else, in 2018-19 is that continuity matters a great deal in sports. The Magic’s roster didn’t change a whole lot after winning only 25 games a year ago. But, with a new head coach and incredible devotion from each of the players, it became clear as the season unfolded that this Magic team was different than the ones that failed to reach the postseason in recent years.
After starting the year 2-6, the Magic refused to put their heads down. They stuck to their basic principles and kept fighting, which is what Clifford-coached teams tend to do.
Orlando won seven of nine during a critical early season stretch in November, beat Boston and Houston on back-to-back nights at home in early January after returning from a 1-5 road trip, and then finished the season 22-9 to log their first winning record since 2012. During that time, the Magic defeated some of the league’s premier teams, including the Warriors, Raptors, 76ers, Celtics and Bucks.
After Jan. 30, the Magic had the NBA’s best defensive rating, encouraging considering they set out to be one of the best defensive teams in the league before the season began.
Their impressive finish propelled them into the playoffs, where they won Game 1 of their first round series against the Raptors before falling in five games.
The Magic won an NBA season-best 17 more games than last year. It was also the second best win-improvement in franchise history.
Looking ahead, there is so much to be excited about with the Magic. While tough decisions will have to be made this summer with Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross set to be unrestricted free agents, the Magic understand now what it takes to be a playoff team.
Just like its parent club, Lakeland’s confidence never wavered after also beginning the season 2-6. The Magic won eight of nine after their tough start and cruised from there.
And like the Amway Center, the RP Funding Center proved to be a great home-court advantage. Lakeland went 19-7 overall at home throughout the season, including the playoffs, and won 17 of its final 21 games in its building.
While leading the G League in 3-point percentage, the Magic recorded the second best offensive rating, only behind the Agua Caliente Clippers. They were a solid defensive team, too, ranking in the top 10 in each of the following categories: opponent points off turnovers, opponent second chance points, opponent fast break points and opponent points in the paint.
Lakeland, which like Orlando in the NBA won the Southeast Division, earned a bye in the first round of the G League playoffs after finishing with the second best record in the East. It then logged its first postseason win in team history by knocking off the Westchester Knicks in the conference semifinals.
Although their season ended in heartbreaking fashion when Long Island’s Theo Pinson drilled a game-winning 3-pointer in the last second of overtime in the conference finals, the Magic have created a winning culture in Lakeland, one they expect to be sustainable long term.
Orlando Solar Bears
While the Orlando Magic won 22 of their final 31 games of the regular season, the Solar Bears also finished strong, winning 19 of their last 28 games and eight of their final 10 before starting their postseason journey.
The Bears finished with 41 victories, eight more than last season, and 88 points, 13 more than in 2017-18.
After losing Game 1 of their first round playoff series against the South Carolina Stingrays, a team they swept in the opening round of last year’s postseason, the Bears quickly bounced back, winning four straight to advance for the second straight year.
In the conference semifinals against the Florida Everblades, its rivals from Estero, Fla., Orlando jumped out to a 1-0 series lead with its 2-1 overtime triumph on the road. Three of the series’ next four games would also require extra time to decide the winner, including Game 5 when the Everblades came away with a 2-1 double OT win that ended the Bears’ season.
Advancing past the first round in two straight years under the direction of Head Coach Drake Berehowsky is a terrific sign for the Solar Bears, who have a lot to look forward to as they continue to work alongside the Lightning in ripening some of their young talent.
Magic Gaming is currently in the middle of its second season in the NBA 2K League, a professional esports league co-founded by the NBA and Take-Two Interactive Software, Inc.
Under the tutelage of new Head Coach Jonah Edwards, the Magic have already shown a ton of promise early in the year. Although they came up short down the stretch in three of their first five regular season games, Magic Gaming appears poised to make a strong playoff push behind their stifling defense and balanced scoring.
Cameron “KingCamRoyalty” Ford, one of two players Magic Gaming retained from their inaugural season, was one of the NBA 2K League’s top performers in THE TIPOFF, a tournament held at the beginning of the year. Emmanuel “UCMANNY” Cruz, the team’s other returning player, is one of the league’s elite lockdown defenders.
The four players chosen by the Magic in the 2019 draft have also made major contributions. First round selection Brendan “Reizey” Hill currently ranks No. 3 in assists per game, while Daniel “DT” Tlais, Mykel “KelMav” Wilson and Tucker “TuckerLocksUp” Henry have made a huge impact early on.