The Orlando Magic appear to be locked into the third spot in the Eastern Conference as the season winds down, but with a stretch run light on playoff contenders, something to gauge their progress wouldn’t hurt.
A visit from the defending champs might be just what they need.
The Magic will look for their 11th win in the last 13 games on their home court Tuesday when they face the San Antonio Spurs, who are looking for their fourth straight victory.
Orlando (46-26) is 5 1/2 games up on Cleveland for the East’s third playoff seed with 10 games to play, and leads second-place Washington in the Southeast Division by 8 1/2, making its first division title since 1995-96 a mere formality.
But six of the Magic’s last eight games have been against teams with .500 records or worse, as will six of their next eight after the Spurs (47-23) come to town.
“I think we’ve got to have a mature approach to every game because all these games mean something to us,” center Dwight Howard said after Orlando’s latest home win, 113-95 over Philadelphia on Friday. “Not just try to get the regular season over with, and get to the playoffs. All these games are preparing us. Every day is something to learn to get ready for the playoffs.”
On the road Saturday against Atlanta, the Magic erased a 14-point first-half deficit to take the lead after three quarters, but were outscored by 12 in the fourth en route to a 98-90 loss.
Howard, an All-Star starter, is the NBA’s leading rebounder at 14.4 per game, but he hasn’t been scoring much lately as Orlando has dropped two of three. He leads the Magic with 21.1 points per game, but has averaged just 9.0 in his last three games and has only taken 18 shots.
Though a game against Tim Duncan and the Spurs wouldn’t seem like the best time to get Howard more shots, the 22-year-old has played well against San Antonio’s front line in the past.
He’s averaging 23.8 points in his last four against the Spurs, and had a game-winning dunk with less than a second remaining as part of a 30-point effort the last time San Antonio came to Orlando on Feb. 9, 2007.
San Antonio has picked up its play after losing four straight and six of seven. It has won three in a row to put Gregg Popovich’s team back in a tight three-way battle for the Southwest Division title.
The Spurs earned their first road victory over a team with a winning record since Feb. 13 on Sunday, beating division-rival Dallas 88-81 despite shooting only 33.0 percent.
“When we were losing, we were flat. We had no emotion,” said Ginobili, who had a game-high 26 points. “We needed a game like this.”
Parker has been the Spurs’ best offensive option lately, averaging 21.3 points in his last seven games.
But as usual, San Antonio is winning with its defense. The Spurs allow just 91.0 points per game - best in the Western Conference - and they’re also the best in the conference defending the 3-pointer (33.7 percent).
They’ll have to guard the perimeter closely against Orlando, which takes an average of 25.1 3-pointers, second-most in the league. Three Magic players - Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu and Keith Bogans - are among the league’s top 12 in shots attempted from beyond the arc.