Can Kevin Love stay healthy? Is Darius Garland as good as we’re hoping he is? Where will Collin Sexton fit in over the long term? Can any of the Cavaliers’ veterans play their way into value on the floor or in terms of trades?
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Orlando Magic
When: 7:00 pm ET
Where: Amway Center — Orlando, Florida
How do I watch: Fox Sports Ohio, NBA League Pass
This whole preview could simply be outstanding questions, and we don’t want to do that. But the practical point is that 82 games starts tonight. We’ll have, over time, plenty of evidence to get us started in terms of conclusions. We’ll argue about data points and probably watch a lot of losses, but at least we’ll be out of the realm of pure speculation. The answers start now. Here are some things I’ll be looking for.
Are the Cavs genuinely a young team now?
Last year the Cavs were rebuilding, but many nights they weren’t all that young, and they were light on players you’d consider potential building blocks. This year, that should change. Darius Garland, Collin Sexton, Cedi Osman, Kevin Porter Jr., and Dylan Windler have varying levels of potential and are all on rookie deals. It would be surprising if there are parts of the season where we don’t have at least three of those players in the rotation soaking up minutes and hopefully getting better. This should make struggles easier to bear - it’s one thing if you’re bad and not learning anything about prospects, it’s another if you’re looking for signs of positive things to come. Which leads to ...
How easy will it be to evaluate these players?
The Cavs could really, really struggle to defend. In that context, it could be difficult to ascertain who really is a worthwhile NBA player moving forward. We’ve seen the Browns jettison players from miserable teams only to see them do good things when they get to their next landing spot. Perhaps Collin Sexton and Cedi Osman can take steps forward while a healthy Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, and Larry Nance Jr. help stabilize things. The Cavs might need it to really get a feel for what they have in Darius Garland, or what Sexton himself can bring to the table.
The same is true for the Cavs simply remaining competitive in games. If they’re down 20 (and blowouts were a big problem for the team in the first half of last year) every night, it’s hard to make sense of who exactly is the problem or who is taking steps forward.
So about the Magic ...
This is a team with clear designs on winning a playoff round in the Eastern Conference. They were one of the NBA’s biggest surprises a year ago, and are scraping off the irrelevance that had been tough to shake since losing Dwight Howard years and years ago. Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic are borderline stars and fit pretty well together up front. It will be an early test of the shape Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson are in. Evan Fournier can play.
The wild card here could be Markelle Fultz. He’s theoretically healthy, though he shot pretty miserably from the field in preseason. He still has the athleticism that made him the first overall choice in an NBA Draft, and it’s a good low-risk bet for a team like the Magic.
The Magic are favored by eight points heading into this game. They have a degree of continuity and a stronger roster than the Cavs. If this one isn’t close, don’t let yourself be discouraged by the idea that Orlando isn’t any good. They are. John Beilein is growing, as are the Cavs youngsters. We don’t even know what the starting lineup is going to be yet. Patience should be in supply to start the season; we’ll see how long it lasts, or how deep fans will be asked to dig to keep it up.
Fear the Sword’s Fearless Prediction:
Magic 106, Cavs 94.