The Cleveland Charge ran away with a lopsided 130-105 win against the Lakeland Magic on the first leg of a back-to-back.
The Charge came out flat and were thoroughly outplayed in the first quarter. The Magic made their initial run when Sharife Cooper went to the bench. Chandler Vaudrin and the rest of the reserves struggled with the Magic’s on-ball defensive pressure. This resulted in Lakeland full-court pressing which forced turnovers and allowing them to get easy baskets transition. The Magic used this to jump out to an 18-point lead and a 43-point first quarter.
The Charge settled down in the second in part to the newly acquired Blake Francis replacing Vaudrin as second-unit point guard. The Charge were able to break the press that was giving them so many issues in the first with Cooper on the bench which completely turned the game around.
“We just got down the floor quick,” Francis said when asked about how they were able to break the press after the rough first quarter. “If we can push the pace and get up the floor before they attempt to get into it, it will cause easy buckets for us as they’re scattered all over the place. We were able to get a few easy layups out of it which caused them to get out of that press.”
The Magic fell apart after the Charge were able to consistently break the press after the first quarter. Cleveland won the final three quarters by a combined 103-62.
Dylan Windler got his first extended game action of the season on Friday night after briefly appearing with the team last week. He looked at times like someone who hasn’t been in a game setting in nearly a year.
Windler struggled to make any meaningful impact with his shooting. On offense, he was mostly relegated to a spot up role in the corner. Coming to a new team with little practice time off of an injury makes this understandable, but this also underscores one of the limitations that has been present in his game since coming to Cleveland. He isn’t the off-ball threat someone with his shooting ability should be due to his limited movement.
Despite the lack of shooting, Windler found ways to be helpful elsewhere. He remains an outstanding rebounder for his size as he was able to come down with numerous contested rebounds. He also capped off the Charge’s biggest run with a layup after a baseline inbounds and a transition and-one. He finished the evening with 8 points on 3-7 shooting with 5 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 turnovers in 18 and a half minutes.
Isaiah Mobley had another strong showing. He once again flashed some impressive offensive skills. Today, it was his passing ability. He finished with only 2 assists, but both were impressive. The first came after pushing off a defensive rebound, drawing traffic in the paint and then making a nice pocket pass to Mamadi Diakite for the easy basket in the second quarter. The next was a behind the back bounce pass from the post to a streaking Sam Merrill for an easy basket.
It wasn’t all pretty for Mobley. He had two bad travels early and struggled, along with the other Cleveland forwards, to control the defensive glass in any meaningful way as Lakeland grabbed 18 offensive rebounds leading to 19 second-chance points. He finished the outing with 14 points on 5-9 shooting which included going 2-3 from deep with 6 rebounds, 2 steals and 4 turnovers.
Sam Merrill was the best offensive player on the floor for the Charge once again. Merrill followed up knocking down a franchise record 10 threes in Wednesday’s win against the Greensboro Swarm with 22 points on 8-14 shooting with 4-9 shooting from distance Friday night. He also contributed 4 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal in the win.
Merrill’s ability to move off-ball and knock down shots in motion opens up the entire half-court offense. He came into this one shooting 43.8% from three on 8.1 attempts per game. There are limitations to what a 6’ 4” two guard who doesn’t necessarily have an off-the-dribble game or playmaking abilities can do, but there is a place in the NBA for a movement shooter that is this accurate.
Francis finished the game with 15 points and a team-high 8 assists in the win after not being in the rotation in the first quarter. “You just have to have the mentality to stay ready,” said Francis afterwards. “That’s how this business is. You have to stay ready at all times. Some nights you might play 30 minutes, some nights you might not play at all. That’s my mentality.”
This wasn’t Cooper’s best night. He struggled with the defensive pressure early as he committed 5 turnovers. Cooper finished the evening with 12 points on 4-6 shooting with 6 assists and 4 rebounds.
Jamorko Pickkett led the Charge with 24 points on 8-11 shooting and 3 steals in the win.
Up next: The Charge will take on the Magic again on Saturday evening. Tip-off is 7 p.m.