As the curtains close on the NBA regular season, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Orlando Magic have clinched the 4th and 5th seeds, respectively. It’s official: Cavaliers vs Magic in the first round. This will probably be the most defensive matchup of the playoffs. Let’s dive into this matchup and series.

NBA Playoffs Preview: Cavaliers vs Magic

Boos and Bracket Strategies

The Hornets pulled off a 10-point upset, defeating the Cavaliers 120-110 at the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. As the Hornets dribbled away the final seconds of the 2023/24 season, boos rang out from the stands. Those boos were not aimed at the players on the court but rather at the organization.

The Cavaliers heading into this game were locked into the fourth seed. There were four possible scenarios heading into this game. In the first scenario, the second seed, the Bucks, and the third seed, the Knicks, both win, so it makes the result against the Hornets meaningless. The second scenario: lose to the Hornets and remain the fourth seed, facing the Magic. The third scenario: beat the Hornets and if both the Bucks and the Knicks lose, the Cavs could finish as the second seed in the East. The last alternative would be to beat the Hornets and if the Bucks lose but the Knicks win, the Cavs finish as the third seed.

Magic: Pick your poison

From the moment the injury report came out, the bracketing strategy became clear. Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland, and Caris Levert were listed as out for the game.

“It’s not rest; those guys have things that they’re dealing with,” Bickerstaff said before the game in explaining the absences of Mitchell, Garland, and LeVert. “That was the thinking going into it: If we could give them yesterday and today, and get throughout this week, hopefully by Saturday or Sunday, whenever we play, like that’s an advantage for us.”

Winning the game was not important to the organizational plan. That was reflected in the decision to have Craig Porter Jr as the only ballhandler in uniform. That plan hit a major roadblock in the first quarter when he landed awkwardly and sprained his left ankle. He couldn’t put any weight on his foot as he was helped to the locker room.

The Cavs coaching staff had to rely on wings Isaac Okoro, Max Strus, and Georges Niang to run the offense as the de facto point guards. That strategy worked for the most part. When the Cavs inserted Tristan Thompson for Strus at the 6:39 mark, they were up by six. From then onwards, they were outscored 18-2 to seal the upset. A team eager to win won’t decide to close out the game with end-of-benchers and G-leaguers. Closing with a lineup of Thompson, Damian Jones, Emoni Bates, Isaiah Mobley, and Pete Nance was a clear self-sabotage.

READ ALSO  Schools' shift from community to competition harms our youth

Earlier, we mentioned that there were two scenarios where the Cavs finished as either the second or third seed. As the second seed, they would face either the Joel-Embiid-led 76ers or the ultra-competitive Miami Heat, a team notorious for being tough outs in the playoffs. As the third seed, they would face the Indiana Pacers. It’s clear why the Cavs were not eager to win this game. They looked at the potential matchups and decided the Magic would be the easiest out of the bunch.

Deliberate or Desperate

As the boos rang out, it was clear the Cleveland faithful wanted them to win and finish as high as possible. Finishing as the second or third seed would give them the best chances of making a deep run. The earliest matchup against the Celtics would have been the conference finals. Facing the Celtics after two rounds increases the likelihood of an upset or a potential crucial injury.

The organization is trying to win their first playoff series without LeBron James since the 1990s. They have won three games less than they did a year ago, and they are 12-17 since the all-star break. The bracketing strategy with the added context of an uncertain Donovan Mitchell future makes the Cavs appear desperate. Perhaps that’s why their fans booed them. Interesting to see how the Magic take this gamesmanship.

All-NBA Talents: Donovan Mitchell vs. Paolo Banchero

To be a playoff team in the NBA almost always requires having at least one borderline all-star on its roster. In this Cavaliers vs Magic series, we have two players who could easily have been second or third all-NBA this year with some luck.

Paolo’s matchup

Paolo Banchero, the 2022 first-round pick, has had a historic sophomore year. He became the youngest player (21 years, 154 days) in NBA history to lead his team in points, rebounds, and assists in a season. He has shown scary resemblances to a young LeBron, being unstoppable on drives to the rim. This year he became an All-Star and rightly so. It will be interesting to see how he fares in his first playoff series.

For the Cavs to have success in this series, they will obviously need the occasion to be too big for Paolo. Evan Mobley will be tasked with guarding Paolo on most possessions. With the Magic’s offense heavily relying on Paolo’s young shoulders, this matchup could make or break this series. Perhaps we finally get to see the difference-maker Mobley was billed to be. Paolo is just an inch shorter than him but is 35 pounds heavier.

READ ALSO  Sharks' Klim Kostin attends Edmonton Oilers-Los Angeles Kings game

Donovan’s matchup

Donovan Mitchell has been a huge miss for the Cavs all year. He appeared in just 55 games, the least in his career bar one season. Mitchell averaged 26.6 points, 6.1 assists, 5.1 rebounds, and 1.8 steals on an effective field goal percentage of .545% (second most in his career).

He had one of his best seasons and the Cavaliers struggled in his absence. With him, they are 35-19, but in his absence, they are just 12-15. Unlike Paolo, he is a known quantity in the playoffs. He elevates his game during these moments. In the playoffs, he is averaging 27.8 points, 5.0 assists, and 5.0 rebounds on an Efg% of .503. Who can forget his bubble run where he led the NBA with 36.3 points in that Nuggets series.

Jalen Suggs has been critical to the Magic’s success this year. He deserves to be on an All-NBA defense team this season. He has been menacing for opposing offenses as the point-of-attack for the Magic.

“First-team all-defense, that’s what that looks like,” coach Jamahl Mosley said after a win against the Charlotte Hornets. “He’s the head of the snake. He’s the first one on defense: As he’s picking up full court, getting to the basketball, that backline is making sure they’re protecting him, sticking to our principles and knowing what we’re capable of doing, but he starts it all off. His energy, his enthusiasm, it just carries over from him and onto the next guy.”

His defense on Donovan Mitchell could swing the series for the Magic. For the season, Suggs had an estimated defensive plus-minus of +2.7, fourth among guards in the NBA. The Magic have the bonus of having Jonathan Isaac, who can take on the matchup of Mitchell in spurts and play elite defense on him. He has been an elite disruptor on a minute restriction

Defense, Health, Size, and Everything In-between


This Cavaliers vs Magic series will be between teams with a lot of similarities. It will be one for the 90’s basketball aficionados. For the basketball purists that appreciate the dirty side of the game, defense. While the Cavaliers have not been as dominant on the defensive end as they were a year ago, they still finished the season in the top ten in the NBA in defensive rating. The Magic finished third in the NBA defensively.

READ ALSO  6MOY Winner Reveals Career Goals Amid Jazz Rumors - Return Sports

An interesting stat to note: Orlando had a 21-2 record when holding opponents under 100 points. Cleveland went 14-0 when holding the other guys under 100. On the flip side, the Magic were 2-12 record when they couldn’t crack 100, the Cavs had a 1-9 record. Also, the Magic and Cavs had net ratings of 2.2 and 2.5. So it’s not a surprise the regular season series was tied at 2-2.

Size and Clunky Spacing

Both teams have long lanky defenders in their lineups. The shortest starter for the Orlando Magic is 6’4″ (Gary Harris). Their entire frontcourt is all 6’10” and above making them a matchup nightmare. For the Cavaliers, they have their twin-towers in the frontcourt – Mobley and Jarrett Allen, both above 6’9″. The addition of Strus and Niang in the offseason has given them length at the wing position. Both teams rank in the bottom 10 in the NBA offensively due to questionable shooting.

Unfortunately for the Cavs, Mobley’s jump shot has not shown much improvement, so lineups featuring the twin-towers have questionable spacing. Defenders are sagging off him to provide help defense on drives. The numbers unfortunately show that the Cavs are much better with Allen at the five, surrounded by a better shooting wing. They have a net rating of 8.55 compared to 2.71 in the Allen/Mobley minutes. The offensive rating in those Allen lineups is 120.75; that would put the Cavs in the top three in the NBA offensively. Interesting to see how the Cavs stagger their minutes to balance offensive output and defensive prowess.

The Magic, on the other hand, don’t have enough shooting around Paolo in their rotation. Franz Wagner has regressed massively as a 3-point shooter. He is shooting the 3pt at a 28.1% clip on 4.6 attempts per game. They have plans to add shooting in the off-season. They shot just 35.2% (bottom-10 in the NBA) on 31.2 attempts (bottom-five in the NBA) this year. Basketball nerds will have aneurysms watching this matchup.

The Last Word

During their regular-season series, the Cavaliers outscored the Magic on three-pointers by 15 points on average. It’s clear the Cavs have the shooting edge. Can the Magic cancel that out with elite perimeter defense to win their first playoff since 2010? The Cavaliers vs Magic series promises to be an intriguing, close contest in every game. Ultimately, the Cavs shooting and perimeter play give them a slight edge I’m picking the Cavs’ to win the series in six games.



Post Views: 1

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *