Importance of homecourt advantage magnified for Magic after playoff series vs. Cavs

When the Magic retired Shaquille O’Neal‘s No. 32 jersey in mid-February, the legendary big man shared a message with the young Orlando squad.

“I told them, ‘Right now, we’re in the 6-spot so hopefully we can win a few games, move up and get some type of homecourt advantage,'” O’Neal said hours before the Magic fell to the Thunder on Feb. 13 at Kia Center.

At the time, the Magic had played 53 of 82 games, and the idea of earning homecourt advantage in the NBA playoffs felt far away with two months still remaining in the regular season.

But as No. 5 Orlando would learn the hard way in its first-round series against the No. 4 Cavaliers, contests that take place in the middle of the season are just as important as the final two weeks in the race for homecourt.

And homecourt in the postseason can make a world of difference.

“That homecourt advantage is a big, big deal, and we see how big of a deal it is now just in terms of how this playoffs series went,” Magic guard Cole Anthony said during Orlando’s exit interviews Monday at the AdventHealth Training Center.

Not only did the Magic fail to win a game at Cleveland — including the all-important Game 7 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse on Sunday — but in total lost their last eight road contests of the year between the regular season and playoffs.

“The hard part of it is experiencing it but the beauty is going through that experience and knowing you can reflect on it next year and say, ‘This is why these one and two games that seem meaningless on a Tuesday in January are very important to the end of the season,'” Magic coach Jamahl Mosley said.

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Orlando went 29-12 at home this season, and only two teams in the East finished with more home victories than the Magic — No. 1 Boston (37) and No. 3 Milwaukee (31).

The Magic’s 29-12 record was tied for the third-best at home for the franchise in the last 25 seasons (since 1999-2000).

And Orlando fans showed their support. Three of the top four largest home crowds were recorded this season, the team said.

“I can tell you that our players are so appreciative of our fans,” said Jeff Weltman, Magic president of basketball operations. “I don’t think we would have had this season without them. We don’t ever take that for granted.

“We have the best fans in the league and they really showed who they are in the playoffs. I hope they had fun and I hope they’re excited about the ride that we’re all about to go on but it doesn’t happen without them.”

Although some Magic fans traveled to Cleveland and made noise — “Let’s Go, Magic,” chants could be heard behind Orlando’s bench during the first half of Game 7 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse — they were overshadowed by the roars of Cavs fans when big shots were hit by All-NBA guard Donovan Mitchell and 3-point specialist Max Strus.

“It’s definitely a lot harder to withstand those runs on the road,” Magic forward Franz Wagner said. “Got to give Cleveland fans some credit — they definitely showed up.

“And same here though,” he added about games at Kia Center. “The whole team felt that the crowd at home was awesome. Definitely makes a huge difference.”

Orlando’s road results show that difference, too.

The Magic were one of just two teams in the East’s top 6 with a sub-.500 record on the road, and their 23 road losses were the second-most among the conference’s top 10 squads.

For how well Orlando performed at home — its net rating (plus-7.8) in home contests was fifth-best in the NBA — the group’s problems on the road cost them a shot at homecourt advantage in the playoffs and ultimately their season against the Cavs.

The Magic’s road net rating (minus-3.5) was No. 18 in the league while their effective goal percentage — a formula that adjusts for 3-pointers being worth more than made 2-pointers — was slightly lower on the road than at home (55.3% home vs. 52.9% away).

“I don’t think we took games for granted this year — at least I don’t think we intentionally took any games for granted — but even more next year, we’re not going to take a single game for granted because you see how it was in the playoffs,” Anthony said.

Jason Beede can be reached at