What if Magic keep Howard?

The Orlando Magic's problems don't start with Dwight Howard -- it's the guys around him. AP Photo/John Amis

The Orlando Magic have been one of the NBA's more enigmatic teams this season. Orlando jumped out to a 10-3 start, with two of those losses coming to the powerful Chicago Bulls and Oklahoma City Thunder. Then came a nightmarish eight-game stretch in which the Magic lost six of eight. In the losses, Orlando averaged just 73.8 points and failed to reach 70 three times. Just when Magic fans thought things were really going to come unhinged, the Magic recovered to take three straight, the last of which was an impressive win at tough Indiana.

Add it all up and the Magic are 15-9, putting Stan Van Gundy's crew on pace for 41 wins. That's exactly what our SCHOENE projection system pegged for Orlando before the season, so in that sense there seems to be nothing amiss. Of course, it's not that simple.

The Magic rank just 16th in the league in average margin of victory (plus-1.1), which means their point differential is that of a 13-11 team. When it comes to forecasting the future, point differential is a more accurate gauge of a team's strength than actual record, especially once the sample sizes get large enough. Being on the wrong end of a disproportionate number of blowouts can skew things, but the Magic are 5-5 in games decided by 10 or more points and 3-3 in those decided by at least 18. No, Orlando clearly has taken a step back and is in fact lucky to sport the record it does today.