The Cleveland Cavaliers may finally be hitting their stride. After a rough four-game stretch in the last week of February that saw the Cavs lose three of four to the Detroit Pistons, Toronto Raptors, and Washington Wizards, the Cavs have rebounded quite well, winning seven of nine dating back to February 29th. Those seven wins include taking three of four on their recent west coast road swing, along with blowout victories over the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Clippers, and last night's fairly entertaining LeBron James-less 99-98 win over the Dallas Mavericks. While they still did have two pretty uninspiring losses in there to a depleted Memphis team and a Jazz team without Gordon Hayward, that's a pretty good three-week stretch.
Now, the Cavs need to carry that momentum into what should be the easiest part of their schedule. Cleveland ends March with a stretch of eight games that includes just two above-.500 teams, the toughest of which is likely Saturday's tilt at Miami. The Cavs can separate themselves from the pack before April 1, and that needs to continue Friday night against the Orlando Magic, who are coming off a 107-99 blowout loss to the Charlotte Hornets.
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers at Orlando Magic
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Amway Center - Orlando, Florida
Can I Watch this Game?: Yes, on Fox Sports Ohio
Enemy Blog: Orlando Pinstriped Post
This is the first game back in Orlando for Channing Frye, who has been an absolute freak the past few games for the Cavs. Frye's installation into the rotation has yielded 7.7 points per game on a ridiculous 70.5 true shooting percentage, and he's seamlessly jumped in as a bridge between the starting lineup and bench-heavy units led by Kyrie Irving. His numbers from the last five games, though, are even more insane: 12.0 points and 4.2 rebounds per game on 64.7 percent shooting from the field and 60 percent from three on five attempts per game. He was particularly instrumental in the Clippers blowout, scoring 15 points on 5-7 from three. He's a matchup problem for his former team, who doesn't have anyone outside of Aaron Gordon to deal with Frye in the pick-and-pop. He should continue his solid play tomorrow night.
Point guard has been a very problematic position for the Magic as of late, which is not a problem you want to have when tasked with facing Kyrie. Elfrid Payton continues to sit out with an elbow injury, and between C.J. Watson and Brandon Jennings, the Magic have been dealing with some incredibly inconsistent play up top. Irving meanwhile has been fantastic lately, headlined by his team-leading 33 points last night. The Magic may need to devote significant time to Victor Oladipo guarding Irving tonight, and even then, neither Jennings nor Watson is a fantastic off-ball defender, and we could see J.R. Smith get loose as a result.
We should stop to talk about just how dominant the Cavs have been against Orlando lately. The Magic last beat the Cavs on November 23rd, 2012. Jeremy Pargo started that game at point guard for the Cavs. Since then, Cleveland has rattled off 13 straight wins in the series, winning by an average score of 108-91. With LeBron, without LeBron, playing well, playing poorly, nothing has mattered over the past four years. The Cavs have throttled the Magic regardless.
The Magic could have success on catch-and-shoot shots against the Cavs, something the team has struggled defending on and off this year and the Magic are pretty solid at. If they can get guys like Ersan Ilyasova and Evan Fournier a little bit of space, those guys do rotate well off the ball, and could get hot from three if allowed to get open looks from a stationary position. Ilyasova particularly worries me, because Kevin Love's really struggled to defend off the ball lately, and Ilyasova is shooting 39 percent on catch-and-shoot threes as a Magic. I think the Cavs will be fine (they held Orlando to 24 percent from three on Jan. 2), but if the Magic can make a dent in the Cavs' defense, it's probably from beyond the arc.
The Cavs have dominated the glass in previous matchups with the Magic this year, most notably on December 11th when they outrebounded Orlando 45-30 in a 111-76 win. It's always surprising that the Magic aren't better on the glass with Nikola Vucevic in the middle, but Tristan Thompson always performs pretty well against Vucevic, and if the Cavs can keep the Magic's shooters under control, it'll free up LeBron and Kevin Love to aid Tristan and Timofey Mozgov under the basket. The Magic aren't a good shooting team overall, so the Cavs have been able to make up for the occasional defensive slip-up by ending possessions with solid rebounding. I expect that to be the case again today.
Fear the Sword's Fearless Prediction
This game goes the way many of the Cavs' other recent games against Orlando have gone - the Magic struggle to score, Tristan goes nuts on the glass, and this is never a game as the Cavs win something like 110-92.