After what feels like eons, the Cavaliers are about to hit the floor again, as they tip off their Eastern Conference Final series against the Orlando Magic tonight at the Q. And as usual, our team of experts is here to break down the match-up and predict the winner.
Rich Swerbinsky: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Bad matchup. We struggled against the Magic at home in the regular season. I know. It won't matter.This Cavaliers team is too focused, too rested, too good at home, too good late in games, and have much more playoff experience than Orlando. And they have the greatest basketball player on the planet Earth.The Magic was a very good, almost great regular season basketball team. But the playoffs are a different animal, and I don't think this Orlando team is a great playoff team. They disappear for long stretches of games. Their go to guy late in games is Hedo Freaking Turkoglu. And they are coached by the "master of panic", Stan Van Gundy. They struggled mightily with the Sixers in round one, and could have easily lost that series were it not for the Hedo prayer at the end of game four. They lost three of the first five games to a Celtics team that was a shell of their former selves, playing guys like Big Baby and Brian Scalabrine heavy minutes.This team is not beating this Cavaliers team four our of seven. End of story.Cavaliers in fiveHiko: In the past rounds, I was negative for the sake of negativity - I had no expectations of actually being pushed in either of those series. However, in order to protect my mental defenses, I refuse to start to believe until the Cavs are in the Championship series and they are up at least a game.
But I have serious concerns entering this series against the Magic.
Pros: Orlando is soft. They don't play very good Defense. If their 3 point shooting is not on, then they are largely ineffective.
Cons: The Cavs do not match up well against the Magic. They have trouble defending and rotating to the perimeter shooters. They have trouble in the middle with Dwight Howard. Cleveland has not been battle-tested in these playoffs, and everyone will be expecting them to walk over Orlando. Plus I saw disturbing signs of Offensive regression from Cleveland in the last 2 games.
This one's going the distance, I believe, and it will be a huge struggle all the way for the Cavs. Who will win? Let's flip a coin... Awwww, crap.
Orlando in 7
Erik Cassano: The easy eight wins are over. Now the hard eight wins begin.
Unlike Detroit and Atlanta, the Magic have some very real ability to swing this series in their favor. Orlando will come into Cleveland for Wednesday's series opener fresh off a Game 7 beatdown of the Celtics, the end of a two-game stretch in which the Magic did a lot to deflate the notion that they are choke artists.
The Cavs, on the other hand, will be coming off their second nine-day break between series. Cleveland's efficiency in dispatching the Pistons and Hawks has given their aging frontcourt a chance to recover, but by Wednesday's tip, the Cavs will have been away from game action for 21 of the previous 25 days. Sunday, the Cavs practiced at The Q -- where they will have gone 14 days between games -- just so they didn't lose their feel for shooting against their home backdrops. Rest will turn to rust at some point.
From a match-up standpoint, what concerns me the most isn't Dwight Howard. The Cavs have done a decent job of limiting his impact on games over the past few years. It's not the all-around game of Hedo Turkoglu, who will likely have to deal with LBJ's athleticism at both ends of the floor. It's not even Rashard Lewis. He'll jack up threes. Some will go in, some won't. What concerns me the most about the Magic is their backcourt.
If Orlando had a healthy Jameer Nelson, they would have a pronounced advantage over Cleveland at the guard spots. As it is, with Rafer Alston and Courtney Lee, the Magic have two pesky, energetic players who can defend and score. Lee might neutralize Delonte West over the course of the series. It will be imperative for Mo Williams to take smart shots in this series, not allowing himself to be outplayed by Alston.
The outside shooting of Zydrunas Ilgauskas will be a critical element in this series. If Z can hit from the perimeter consistently, forcing Howard and the Magic bigs to come out of the paint and contest shots, it will open up space for LeBron, Williams and West to score inside -- which is really when the Cavs are at their most dangerous offensively.
I'll take the Cavs in seven, because I don't think LeBron will let the Cavs lose this series, and I don't think the Magic have the horses to deny LeBron at every turn. But LeBron might ultimately have to lug the Cavs to the Finals on his back -- and do it by winning in Orlando, where the Cavs suffered two blowout losses during the regular season. The Cavs will have to win at least one road game in this series -- maybe two -- because I think Orlando is going to win at least one game in Cleveland.
Cleveland in 7
Jesse Lamovsky: Maybe I've had too much time to ponder, think over, and chew on this match-up. Maybe I'm taking too much counsel of my fears. But I can't shake the feeling that Orlando is the absolute last opponent any partisan of the Cavaliers should want to see.
The Magic, from their standpoint, match up perfectly. Cleveland's weaknesses- size on the perimeter and bulk in the low post- dovetail with Orlando's strengths. The Cavalier frontcourt is skilled and experienced, but not one member of the group has the ability to push Dewey Howard out of his preferred spots the way Kendrick Perkins did throughout Orlando's series with Boston. Orlando's rangy defenders have the ability to make life miserable for Mo Williams and Delonte West, and LeBron's pell-mell drives to the basket will be contested ferociously by the league's number-one intimidator down low. Cleveland's defensive strategy is predicated on forcing opponents into tough perimeter shots- only no perimeter shot is too tough for Orlando's crew of chuckers, who have the ability to embarrass any team in the league if they're finding cotton on a consistent basis. The match-up, to put it bluntly, sucks.
What to do about these disadvantages? Well, maybe Mike Brown should dust off Sasha Pavlovic and see if his length and athleticism can disrupt Orlando's tall shooters. Maybe Darnell Jackson should get some run, just in case he can successfully use his strength and his six fouls to slow down Dewey Howard. And maybe LeBron can keep attacking, Dewey be damned, and see if he can't turn Superman into a foul-plagued Clark Kent. Beyond that, there isn't much the Cavaliers can do other than hope the shots don't fall and that Stan Van Jeremy has at least one more panic attack in his system. But I'm not optimistic in the slightest.
Orlando in 6
Jerry Roche: The Orlando Magic really, really scare me. I mean, they scare the ever-lovin' bejesus out of me. Mainly because I cannot banish the lingering images of that nightmare 116-87 shellacking on April 3rd.
There are a couple dozen reasons why the Cavaliers could lose this series, starting with the Magic's 20-20 Superman in the middle. Or Rafer Alston, J.J. Redick, Anthony Johnson, Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis shooting threes with uncanny accuracy -- for which there is no defense. (Sunday night, the Magic hit 12 of 26 bombs, many of them wide-open looks, thanks to passes that were quicker around the horn than the Celtics.) Repeat: NO defense for that kind of offense. You just pray that they miss.
However, as I wrote on March 31st, there is at least one overwhelming reason why the Cavaliers will win this series: They are a team of destiny. I know that sounds weak. But when it's crunch time, the almighty gods can flick away a few Orlando three-pointers without having to worry about basket interference. Neither those gods nor a certain league MVP will ALLOW the Cavs to lose the deciding seventh game in the Q on June 1st. It just ain't gonna happen.
Cavaliers in 7
Brian McPeek: The Cleveland Cavaliers vs. the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals. I like the sound of that.
I'm not going to lie. I'd rather be facing the Boston Celtics and their worn down, injured roster. The Magic present the Cavs with a stiffer challenge than Boston would have. Not to mention it would have been nice to do the Celtics ourselves. Just for us.
But I'm not as concerned as others are with the prospects of facing Orlando. While they are younger, healthier and more dangerous than the Celtics their play ebbs and wanes and they are prone, due to their style and reliance on the outside shot, to meltdowns and periods of uninspired play. That it took them seven games to vanquish Boston is less a testament to Orlando than it is to the heart of the Celtics. Boston was on fumes going into the series and Orlando was still pushed to the brink.
If the Cavs take care of business defensively they will move on in 6 games. But they will be tested.
Cavaliers in 6
Tony Lastoria: The Cavaliers have cruised through the first two rounds of the playoffs, winning all eight of their games by double digits. It was a wonderful achievement and fun while it lasted, but that is all about to change for this series and potentially the next series if they make it to the NBA Finals. The best four teams in the NBA this year are still playing as the Cavaliers, Magic, Nuggets and Lakers all get set to battle it out in what should be a very good "Final Four" in the NBA. Really, at this point, a strong case can be made for any of these teams to win it all.
The focus right now though is on the Cavaliers and whether or not they can get past the Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals and play for an NBA championship. The Cavaliers are well rested, for the most part healthy, have home-court advantage, and of course they have LeBron James. They play suffocating defense, shoot the ball well, and are almost unbeatable at home. But everything the Cavaliers do so well, the Magic in almost every area have an answer to neutralize that advantage be it their ability to win in tough road environments, play very good defense themselves, and display a very effective inside-outside game with Dwight Howard and a litany of shooters around the perimeter.
The Cavaliers are going to be very tested in this series. It may go five games or be stretched out to seven games, but this series should be a war where every game is tightly contested until the final buzzer. This Magic team is being overlooked and under-estimated by many partly because they are inexperienced and have shown periods late in games where they crumble. But, they seemed to come of age in the final two games of their series with the Celtics to overcome those demons to win that series and get their crack at dethroning the mighty Cavaliers on their quest to the NBA Finals.
The Magic absolutely destroyed the Cavaliers in both games that were played in Orlando this year, and with the Cavaliers proving an inability to beat the top teams like the Celtics, Magic and Lakers on the road, the Cavaliers cannot avoid a slip up at home in this series. In the lone game at the "Q" this year, the Cavaliers won 97-93, but the Magic played well and actually had the lead with under a minute left in the game before some heroics by LeBron saved the Cavaliers. The Magic may not have won that game, but they have to believe based on that game that they can steal a game in Cleveland. This series could be decided with how things shake out in the first two games in Cleveland, as a 2-0 lead by the Cavaliers could put them in the driver's seat to win in five or six games. But, if Orlando steals one of the first two games in Cleveland, prepare for the meltdown in Cleveland and for a war of a series that will be stretched out to six or seven games. I hope I am wrong, but I do see Orlando winning one of those first two games in Cleveland, and with the Cavaliers not being able to win in Orlando, the Magic close it out in six.
Orlando in six
Nick Allburn: The Magic pose some unique challenges, and they possess one of the game's brightest young stars in center Dwight Howard. Even so, they will have neither the polish nor the consistency to hang with a Cavaliers team that is hitting on all cylinders. The Cavs will not have much trouble scoring against the Magic, who are improved defensively, but not enough to stop a Cavs offense which can now show the opposition several different wrinkles. Howard is the linchpin of Orlando's defense, and if the Cavs can draw a couple of early fouls on him, they can take the Magic out of the game early. The Cavs need to take advantage of the Delonte West vs. Redick/Lee match up, and don't be surprised to see Joe Smith make a big impact off the bench if he's guarded by Rashard Lewis. Using LeBron James at power forward could also cause serious headaches for Orlando. Defensively, the Cavs need to make Hedo Turkoglu and Rafer Alston into jump shooters and keep them from penetrating. Orlando is at their best when those two are getting inside and freeing up Howard to cut to the rim for open dunks. With Ilgauskas (who isn't known for his defense) at center, Howard will be a tough match up for the Cavs. Superman will probably score his 20 points every game, and the Cavs should probably sign up for that. The key is to keep Howard from scoring those points on uncontested dunks, and to either make him earn his points at the free throw line, or ideally, make him shoot his underdeveloped jumper. Cavs fans seem terrified of the Magic. If the Magic had Jameer Nelson at the point and a totally healthy and rested squad, those fears would be far more justified. But considering that a lousy Sixers team took Orlando to six games and a bloodied Celtics team took them to seven, the Cavs should be able to take care of business and earn their second Finals berth in three years.
Cavaliers in 5