The Cleveland Cavaliers finally ended a lackadaisical three-game skid Tuesday night with a competitive win over the Portland Trail Blazers. With first place in the Eastern Conference back in the team's possession, the Cavs will now embark on a two-game road trip, hitting Orlando tonight to take on the Magic, and then visiting the Boston Celtics. Both teams look improved from last year's versions, and the Cavs will likely get pestered by both teams, even though they have a sizable talent advantage in both games. Picking up two victories in advance of contests with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Golden State Warriors in the next two weeks would be ideal for a Cavs team still trying to find a rhythm.
Orlando features a team that looks incredibly different from the rest of the post-Dwight Howard iterations of the squad. The Magic didn't change a ton roster-wise, but their addition of head coach Scott Skiles has predictably yielded a top-10 caliber defense. A breakout year from Evan Fournier and improvement from Elfrid Payton have also helped put the Magic right in the jockeying for a playoff spot in the East, and coming off a tight loss to the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday, they'll be looking to regain momentum by catching the Cavs by surprise.
Sidenote: The Cavs played in Miami last Saturday. They came back to Cleveland after, played one game, and now are going back to Florida. The NBA's travel schedule is really dumb sometimes.
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers at Orlando Magic
When: 7:00 p.m.
Where: Amway Center - Orlando, Florida
TV Listings: Fox Sports Ohio
Enemy Blog: Orlando Pinstriped Post
Music: Alter Bridge - Metallingus
Things to Watch For
- Victor Oladipo has been terrible to start the season, which has both helped to put a damper on Orlando's offensive improvement and helped create the opportunity for Fournier's strong start. Oladipo's shooting 39.5 percent from the field and 26.5 percent from three this year, which is bad enough that Payton is shooting better in both categories. The Magic have been slightly better with him off the floor, particularly defensively, where Fournier's made more of an impact and Oladipo doesn't seem to be grasping Skiles's system yet. The Magic have been bringing Oladipo off the bench as of late, where he's been slightly more effective, but this coaching change has not been an easy transition for Oladipo.
- Kevin Love had a ton of success in November 23rd's 117-103 win over Orlando, and I'd expect him to have a big game again. While Skiles's defense has been pretty stout overall this season, the Magic don't have anyone who's both mobile enough to track Love on the perimeter and strong enough to bump him off the post. Orlando tried guarding Love with both Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris a majority of the time, and neither had much success, as Love shelled out 34 points and eight rebounds. With Channing Frye in the starting lineup now, the Magic could have some more success against Love, but if the Cavs go super-small again like they did Tuesday against Portland, I don't see how you can stick with Harris, Frye, and Vuc at the same time.
- Also interesting after what happened in the previous matchup will be how Elfrid Payton plays when matched up with Matthew Dellavedova. Delly destroyed Payton in the last contest, posting 15 points and nine assists while holding Payton scoreless on 0-7 shooting. Mo Williams didn't play in the last game, of course, so we'll probably see more Delly on Fournier and Mo on Elf this time around, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Delly get a lot of early time on Payton to force Skiles to roll out Shabazz Napier or Mario Hezonja, which makes things even better for the Cavs' point guards offensively.
- I am a little worried about the Magic's bench allowing them to hang around longer than they should, because between Hezonja, Jason Smith, and Aaron Gordon, they have guys down the bench who can make things tough for the Cavs' bench units, and did so in the last contest. Thankfully the Cavs won't be missing Mo and Mozgov this time around, so the rotation should be in better shape to have TT/Love go up against Gordon and Smith in the frontcourt and to allow Delly to shut down Napier. But, we've seen teams hang around on the Cavs with strong bench play before, so that's a concern.
- Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert are making the trip to Orlando with the Cavs, and one or both could return to the lineup. Shump would probably be slightly more helpful specific to the Magic, because having him to lock down Fournier or Oladipo at the shooting guard position would be huge. I hope both return within the next week, mainly just because I want to be at #FullSquad on Tuesday so the Cavs can beat the Celtics by 80.