On the threshold of the new NBA season, it appears the Eastern Conference is already a mostly settled issue: The Bucks are the clear favorites and their most serious challenger is in Philadelphia. That’s how the oddsmakers have the East arranged, with Milwaukee going off at 5-to-4 odds to win the conference and the Sixers at 3-to-2.
Orlando, the best defensive team in the NBA in the second half of last year? They’re 80-to-1, tied for eighth with Chicago.
Asked if the Magic could keep pace with the Sixers-Bucks top tier of the East this year, Augustin told Heavy.com, “For sure, last year we beat both of those teams a few times. They are great teams and this year we feel like we can be right up there with them. We don’t get caught up in all that. We just focus on ourselves, take every practice, every game day-by-day and let it fall where it falls.”
The Magic did split with Philadelphia in four games last season and beat the Bucks once in three tries Milwaukee was without league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo in that game, however, and the Sixers significantly changed the roster this summer.
By the same token, though, the Magic were a much different team by the end of last season, finishing the year 22-9 with the best defensive rating in the league over that stretch. Through their first 51 games, the Magic had a defensive rating of 109.0, 16th in the league, and an offensive rating of 105.6 (23rd). After that, Orlando’s top-ranked D had a rating of 104.9, and the offense jumped to 112.5, eighth in the NBA.
“I just think things clicked for us,” Augustin said. “We were 20-31 before the All-Star break. Right before the break, it just clicked. We realized that if we play together, we play defense and do all the right thing as a unit, as a team, then we can win. Once we started to do that, we won five in a row and we just took off after that. We realized that’s the way we should be playing, that was what it was going to take for us to win as a group and we just kept it up all season. It got us where we ended.”
Thrill of Augustin’s Big Shot Did Not Last Long
Orlando did earn a playoff spot, as the No. 7 seed in the East, and it was Augustin who delivered one of the most memorable moments of last year’s postseason, in Game 1 against the Raptors in the first round. Augustin’s 3-pointer with 3.4 seconds left in Toronto gave the Magic a stunning win over the eventual champs.
Augustin said he thought of that shot often during the offseason—but only because others reminded him about it. He was more focused on what happened in the aftermath of the shot. The Raptors beat Orlando by 29 in Game 2 and finished off the series in five games.
“I had so many people sending it to me more than I thought about it myself,” Augustin said. “It was a great feeling when it happened. But the NBA is, you’ve got to have short-term memory. You can never get too high or get too low. That night I was definitely high, but that next game they came in and took it to us, so I forgot all about that shot. It was a great experience, though.”
As a 32-year-old veteran who has been with eight teams and reached the postseason with four of them, including a trip to the conference finals with Indiana in 2013, Augustin is the most experienced member of the Magic. For Orlando to truly keep pace in the East, without having made significant upgrades in talent, he knows it will require quick maturation from his young teammates—guys like Jonathon Isaac (who is 22), Markelle Fultz (21) and Mo Bamba (21).
“Those guys, you can look at them and tell, they still have got to turn into men physically,” Augustin said. “They’re still really skinny and long. Those guys have got a lot of work to do. The thing about them is they work every day, they work hard, they have great attitudes, they want to be coached, they want to be good, they want to help the team win.”
That’s why Augustin sees so much upside in this year’s Magic bunch. Certainly, a return to the playoffs is expected. But he would not put a ceiling on how far the Magic can go.
“I don’t see one,” he said. “We have so many young guys, I am the old man of the team. We have so many young guys with so much potential and talent. If those guys just keep working hard and doing the things that they’re doing, this team can keep growing over the years. … If we start off how we finished last season, we can do great things.”