The Cleveland Cavaliers are locked in as the four seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs no matter how many more games they win or lose this season. But the Cavs still need to finish the season, so prepare for bench guys stepping into starter minutes the rest of the way. Tonight’s matchup against the Orlando Magic will look different than the last one.
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers (50-30) vs. Orlando Magic (34-45)
Where: Amway Center — Orlando, Florida
When: 7:00 p.m. EST
TV: Bally Sports Ohio, Bally Sports Southeast
Spread: ORL -7.5 (via Draft Kings)
Cavs’ expected starting lineup: Ricky Rubio, Cedi Osman, Dean Wade, Lamar Stevens, Robin Lopez
Cavs’ injury report: Jarrett Allen (right groin strain - OUT), Darius Garland (left lower leg contusion - OUT), Caris LeVert (right knee soreness - OUT), Donovan Mitchell (left hand/finger sprain - OUT), Evan Mobley (rest - OUT), Isaac Okoro (OUT - knee), Dylan Windler (OUT - left foot sprain)
Magic expected starting lineup: Markelle Fultz, Gary Harris, Franz Wagner, Paolo Banchero, Wendell Carter Jr.
Magic injury report: Jonathan Isaac (OUT - left abductor)
What to watch for
The Cavs have nothing more to play for in the regular season and will opt to rest the regular starters ahead of the postseason. That means Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Evan Mobley, Caris LeVert, and Jarrett Allen will be riding the pine in street clothes, but it doesn’t mean there is nothing to watch for. Dean Wade, Lamar Stevens, Ricky Rubio, and Cedi Osman will get a lot of minutes, and it would be ideal for getting them into a rhythm heading into the postseason.
The projected starters are all rotation pieces come playoff time, so getting consistent now will hopefully help them prepare. This is especially important for the wings, given the uncertainty surrounding Isaac Okoro and his cranky knee. The Cavs will be more vulnerable defensively if Okoro is unavailable in the first few games of a series against the Knicks as he would likely be Jalen Brunson’s primary defender. Wade and Stevens go through spurts of viability, with the former being far less productive for the last several months.
Wade is the most troubling, and not only because the Cavs extended him prior to the season. The shot-taking and making have been severely lacking to the point that Wade has been unplayable. But he has hit a three in three-straight games after only making two in his previous eight games, so hopefully more extended playing time helps him find a groove. Stevens is the personification of a “junkyard dog” and is likely the easiest one-to-one replacement for Okoro. And, like Okoro, he does not really frighten opposing defenses.
The Cleveland Charge
With so many “injuries” for the Cavs (aside from Evan Mobley, who was apparently too healthy so they just used “rest” on him), fans will get to see the Cleveland Charge play tonight against the Magic. Players like Sam Merrill, Mamadi Diakite, and Isaiah Mobley will get their chance in real NBA minutes.
Mobley is an interesting player. He averaged 21 points, eight rebounds, and four assists per game for the Charge and displayed some willingness to take people off the dribble or shoot from deep.
Sam Merrill could be a viable rotation player for the Cavs next season because of his shooting capabilities. He shot 44% from deep on 8.9 three-point shot attempts per game for the Charge, a skillset the Cavs bench could really use. Here he gets his shot off really quickly:
Sam Merrill's tough and-1 triple - part of a massive 3rd-quarter run to take the lead for @ChargeCLE - set the tone for the rest of the game and is your @starrylemonlime 3-Point Play of the Conference Quarterfinals. pic.twitter.com/cgZX7XQmGl— NBA G League (@nbagleague) March 30, 2023
There is a reasonable pathway for Merrill to get more playing time next season, given the uncertainty around some fringe players on the Cavs roster. Merrill will have an opportunity to demonstrate the shooting in the last few games here.
The Magic are actually fun
While the Cavs bench and young guys are interesting to watch, the Orlando Magic are actually fun and interesting too. Next season, the Magic should be fighting for a play-in tournament spot given the growth of their young players. Franz Wagner and Paulo Banchero make for a dynamic wing pairing that has a blend of shot-making and playmaking. Wendell Carter Jr. is a blossoming young center who has shown a lot of growth since his trade from Chicago. Markelle Fultz is healthy and playing very well, which is great to see given his career trajectory so far.
Banchero is an incredible scorer, and probably the Rookie of the Year. Demonstrates really good body control by falling away from the basket and using the glass to finish. He also spun right past should-be Defensive Player of the Year, Evan Mobley:
In his last ten games, Fultz is averaging 17.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per game on 56% shooting. After numerous injuries and hiccups, his play is really inspiring and sews up Orlando’s backcourt.
It is insane how he got up for this alley-oop.
The Magic are going to be a tough out next season, and certainly worth watching in tonight’s game.