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: Magic 99, Cavaliers 88, Jan. 29 Quick thoughts
The Magic destroyed the Cavs in January, but the Cavs were without Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Delonte West in that game. Tonight we’ll see the Cavs complete lineup against Orlando’s full squad in Cleveland. Most experts and pundits still put the Magic below the Cavs, Celtics and Lakers in the title race, and rightfully so – without Jameer Nelson, the Magic haven’t proven they can hang with those teams. If the Magic can win this one, they’re for real. If they win tonight, it’s officially time for the Magic to garner the respect they were getting before Nelson got injured.
LeBron James made just 10 of 27 shots in the teams’ last meeting. Hedo Turkoglu, who has no chance of staying in front of James, did a good job funneling James into Howard in the paint. It won’t be so easy this time, because Howard can’t help from the weak-side as much with Ilgauskas in there. Ilgauskas lives on that 16-foot jumper, so Howard will have his hands full with that.
Based on the way he's been playing and the Cavs' defensive struggles inside, Dwight Howard should have his way on the offensive end. Ben Wallace is out with an injury, so Anderson Varejao and Ilgauskas make up the Cavs' starting frontline. I'd expect the Cavs to shy away from the double-team whenever Ilgauskas is in there, instead seeing if Big Z can slow down Dwight by himself.
The Magic are playing some pretty inspired defense lately. In the last five games, opponents are shooting 40.1 percent from the field, compared to 43.4 percent for the regular season. Also in those five games, the Magic are outscoring opponents 100.8-89.2 and outrebounding foes 47.8-41.
Mo Williams also struggled in the teams’ last meeting, going 4-for-15 from the field. I’m worried about this matchup for Rafer Alston and Courtney Lee, and what Magic fan isn’t? Point guards have had their way with Alston over the last couple weeks. He needs to stay all over Williams and not give him any room to shoot, which is really the main way Williams is going to hurt you. I understand that it’s easier said than done, but it needs to be done if the Magic are going to win.
Courtney Lee played one of his best defensive games of his career in the last meeting, playing 31 minutes and holding Williams, Sasha Pavlovic and Boobie Gibson (he guarded all three at different times) to subpar games. The Magic are going to need him tonight, even though JJ Redick is apparently the Magic’s new defensive stopper at shooting guard.
It’s pretty clear that the average NBA fan’s blood pressure reads higher than the common folk. Take, for illustration purposes, the ESPN TrueHoop Cleveland blogger’s following anecdote after the Cavs defeated Sacramento in overtime last week:
We should really not be going to overtime and barely winning against them. I really and truly almost had a heart attack this time. This is twice in a week. In fact, this game was a full-on regression to LeBron bailing us out, or playing like what I call the “Cardiac Cavs.”
So, the NBA’s best team screws around on the road a little bit and squeaks by a pretty bad Western Conference team. I enjoy Cavs the Blog, and I only quote this paragraph to illustrate the anxiety that every NBA fan deals with. You can have the best record and best player in the NBA, but it doesn’t matter: You’re going to have insecurities about your team.
More game notes, courtesy of the Magic:
Orlando is 37-34 all-time vs. Cleveland (23-13 at home, 14-21 on the road) during the regular season, including 1-0 this season.
The Magic went 3-1 last season against the Cavs.
The Magic have won seven of the last nine matchups with the Cavaliers.
Orlando has won nine of the last 13 games played at home, and three of the last four at Cleveland.
Tony Battie spent the last 50 games of the 2003-04 season with Cleveland.
Anthony Johnson played 28 games with Cleveland in 2000-01.
Assistant Coach Brendan Malone served as head coach of the Cavaliers for the final 18 games of the 2004-05 season, after serving as an assistant coach.
Malone’s son, Michael, is currently an assistant coach for the Cavs.