It’s been a rough week for the Cavs. They’ve lost three straight, dating back to last Saturday’s 120-92 thrashing by the Miami Heat when LeBron James and Kyrie Irving rested. They then dropped two subsequent games, a 106-98 loss at home to the Heat, and a 106-101 loss to the Detroit Pistons that featured an early double-digit lead blown. Compounding matters, Andrew Bogut was signed to mixed reactions, broke his tibia 58 seconds into his first game, and was promptly waived. Tyronn Lue has been sick and away from the team for a stretch. All of that is enough to make one ponder the meaning of Cavs fandom during the regular season.
But what’s the one thing that creates more of an existential crisis than being a Cavs fan in the slog of another March with questionable meaning? Oh hey, the Cavs play the Magic a night after the previously imploding Charlotte Hornets beat them by 40!
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers at Orlando Magic
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Amway Center - Orlando, Florida
TV Info: Fox Sports Ohio
What to watch for:
- It’s time to update the Cavs/Magic win streak counter! The Cavs are on a 15-game win streak against the Magic, dating back to the 2012-2013 season. They have still only been held under 100 points three times during the streak. And while the 105-99 result on Oct. 29 drags the average point differential down, it’s only enough to mean the Cavs have beaten the Magic by an average of 15.1 points per game since 2013. The last time the Cavs lost to Orlando, Jeremy Pargo started at point guard for Cleveland; Brandon Weeden was the Browns’ starting quarterback; and Mitt Romney was 17 days removed from losing the presidential election. This is my favorite random stat in basketball.
- There’s not much to take away from the last matchup between these teams. That was back in October, with the Cavs using 23/6/9 from LeBron to edge past Orlando. The Cavs’ bench was almost entirely different at that time; No Kyle Korver, no Derrick Williams, and plenty of Mike Dunleavy. The Cavs did nearly double up the Magic on forcing turnovers, which is probably translatable, as the Cavs are routinely one of the NBA’s best teams at taking care of the ball, and the Magic rank 22nd in defensive turnover rate.
- This should be a good game for the Cavs defense to reset, as they looked pretty ambivalent for most of the last two weeks. Against the Magic, your defense basically has no choice but to look strong - this is the league’s 29th-best offense in efficiency, at just 100.9 points/100 possessions, per basketball-reference. Their team true shooting percentage is dead last at 52.3 percent, as they are both bad at generating open looks and hitting the ones they do get. Effort would be nice to see, but even a game that is more “results over process” on this end gives a starting point to build from scheme-wise.
- Offensively, the Cavs will probably find more success moving the ball on the perimeter. With Bismack Biyombo on the interior, the Magic can at least make you work for shots inside, and he’ll play a big role with Nikola Vucevic possibly out due to an Achilles injury. But if he’s acting as a deterrent, the Cavs can probably still find open shots on the outside, as the Magic don’t do a great job of dealing with drive-and-kick. Given that their last three losses have all come by giving up at least 110 points to John Wall, Derrick Rose, and Kemba Walker, the Cavs should be able to find some open threes if they can get Kyrie or LeBron moving to the rim consistently.
Fear the Sword’s Fearless Prediction
Orlando on a back-to-back, the night after giving up 121 to Charlotte on the road? With the Cavs playing everyone? The Cavs should have this. Or they won’t. It’s March. This team’s effort level is impossible to predict. I’ll go with something like 107-99 to keep the streak intact and get out without too much bloodshed.