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PER Diem: Jan. 12, 2009

Rashard Lewis helped the Magic dismantle the Hawks and jump to elite status. Fernando Medina/NBAE/Getty Images

NBA aficionados have a lot of different little tests they use to decide whether or not a team is a real championship contender. They'll look at the team's track record, of course, especially in recent postseasons. They'll look at the team's roster and count how many brand names there are, and will look especially hard for the presence of an all-time great.

Based on all that, they create something akin to a "smell test" that tells them whether a team should be taken seriously as a title contender or not.

In at least one case, that smell test has led everyone horribly astray. The Orlando Magic have no history of playoff success, and don't have one of the uber-stars like Kobe Bryant or LeBron James (no disrespect to Dwight Howard). They only have one perennial All-Star on the roster. Their guard play can be spotty, they don't always play well with leads and their best player can't make foul shots and is prone to turnovers.

Yet after this weekend, it's impossible to ignore the reality any longer: The Magic are legitimate championship contenders.

Friday night's vicious 121-87 beatdown of the Hawks was the first half of the message. While everyone was focused on the Celtics-Cavs, the other two best teams in the East faced off in Orlando, except only one of them showed up. Orlando led by as many as 50 points in the third quarter before calling off the dogs -- I can't even remember the last time I saw an NBA team with a 50-point lead -- and ended up winning by 34.

(Quasi-humorous side note: At the six-minute mark of the third quarter, with the Magic up by 46, Courtney Lee picked up his fourth foul. Stan Van Gundy immediately replaced him -- as though Lee would be needed for crunch time and it was paramount to manage his foul trouble.)

For Part Deux, the Magic went to San Antonio and walked out a 105-98 winner, completing a season sweep of a team that most see as a far more legitimate contender based on its respective pedigrees.

Orlando is now 30-8, the second-best record in the East and the third-best in basketball, and has climbed to second in the Power Rankings behind mighty Cleveland. Monday's Playoff Odds project them to finish with 61 wins and it gives them a 20.9 percent chance of winning a title.

While reasonable people can argue whether the Magic are second, third or fourth in the NBA's hierarchy, what can no longer be denied is that the Magic are on the same level as the Lakers and Celtics, and miles ahead of the likes of San Antonio, Utah and New Orleans.

At the heart of the Magic's dominance has been a massive advantage in 3-point shooting. Orlando is making nearly twice as many 3-pointers as its opponents -- 10.1 per game against 5.1 per game -- and at 39.3 percent from downtown they're shooting it far more accurately than the opposition (33.3 percent). This weekend they were especially dominant, making a ridiculous 30-of-50 from long range, and with J.J. Redick and Courtney Lee both taking on bigger roles and lighting it up from outside that trend might continue.

Orlando faces many more tests in the coming days -- after this week, their next two Thursdays will be spent hosting Boston and Cleveland -- but win or lose the big-picture reality shouldn't change: The NBA title will almost certainly be won by one of four teams, and the Magic need to be taken seriously as one of the four.

John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.