The Cleveland Cavaliers (21–40) have just about let their chance at the play-in tournament slip away. They’ve lost three games in a row, the last two of which came to teams directly in front of them in the standings. It’s all about the ping pong balls from here on out, and what better opponent to start the new season against than the last-place Orlando Magic (18–43)?
Orlando has been stupendously bad since they dove into the tank at the deadline and traded Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic. In fact, the Magic have pulled off the tank-tastic feat of being worse than their bottom-of-the-league record indicates: they’re 3–14 since the deadline and own the league’s second-worst offense, defense and net rating.
After tonight, the Cavs’ schedule consists exclusively of teams that are currently in the playoffs or play-in. In other words, if there’s one game left that Cleveland should absolutely, unequivocally win, it’s this one.
How to watch
Head over to Bally Sports Ohio or NBA League Pass at 7 p.m. for all the Cleveland hoops you could ever dream of.
Projected starting lineups
Cavaliers: Darius Garland, Cedi Osman, Isaac Okoro, Kevin Love, Jarrett Allen
Magic: Cole Anthony, Gary Harris, Dwane Bacon, Chuma Okeke, Wendell Carter Jr.
Another (likely) Collin Sexton-less day means another likely start for Cedi Osman. Osman started the last two after falling out of the rotation due to wildly inconsistent play and, true to form, offered wildly inconsistent play: 19 points on 7-of-12 against the Washington Wizards, then 6 points 2-of-9 against the Toronto Raptors.
Meanwhile, this will mark the sixth time the Magic run this starting lineup. Through the first five, it’s been…
...what’s that polite thing Scott Brooks said about wins and lessons?
Things to watch for
Doing it the hard way. The Cavs are at their best when Okoro, Larry Nance Jr. and co are deflecting balls, disrupting passing lanes, and converting defense into easy offense. Unfortunately for them, playing gaffe-free basketball might be the one thing Orlando has done well since the deadline. In that span, no team has given the ball over less frequently or given up fewer points off turnovers than the Magic. You can also expect them to outscore you from the charity stripe, as they’re seventh in free throw rate and third in opponent free throw rate. These Magic force opponents to beat them. It’s just that, uhh, beating them has shown to be pretty easy.
Free passing clinic (expert tutorial included)! Post-deadline Magic opponents are averaging just under 27 assists per game against Orlando. (Don’t look at who’s right behind them.) And while the Cavs aren’t exactly the Beautiful Game Spurs reincarnate, they are assisting on two-thirds of their made field goals since Love’s return to the lineup, which roughly coincides with the trade deadline. The leader, of course, is Garland. Garland’s advancement (particularly as a passer) is well-documented at this point, but you should document the lunacy further by watching this pass. Or this one. The stars and planets are lining up for a big game from Garland.