In front of a national TV audience and a sellout crowd at Amway Arena, the Orlando Magic dominated the NBA-best Cleveland Cavaliers and dealt them their worst loss of the year, 116-87. Rashard Lewis led seven Magic players in double-figures with 22 points on 6-of-10 shooting (5-of-7 on three-pointers) while Dwight Howard added 20 points, 11 boards, and 3 blocked shots; I suppose, as does Kyle Hightower, that the players-only meeting he called yesterday worked. The Magic shot 53.7% from the field and 48.1% from three-point range, getting open looks by running the road-weary Cavs into the ground in transition. They led by as many as 41 points in the game.
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It was the sort of night where, after the Magic started the second half on a 16-2 run highlighted by three Lewis three-pointers, a Mickael Pietrus driving dunk in traffic only drew mild applause from the home crowd. The Magic have not looked sharper, offensively or defensively, all year, and it's entirely possible that the Cavs have never looked worse. Yes, Cleveland was on the second night of a back-to-back, but I'm not sure it can use that fact to excuse its poor effort tonight; coming into this evening, the Cavs held a league-best 15-2 record in such games.
But don't take my word for it. Here's Cavaliers beat writer Brian Windhorst, one of the most respected scribes in the league, regarding the potential fatigue factor for Cleveland:
There was no doubt the Cavs were tired. They had no lift in their legs, were slow to do just about anything and for awhile seemed totally averse to getting involved in any contact. Considering they played 17 games in 31 days in March and had such a demanding back-to-back perhaps some sort of energy zap was a long time coming.
But even against a top team, to fall down by 40 points never could have entered the imagination until it actually happened.
The Magic looked to push the tempo early and often, and coach Stan Van Gundy's message to his players in every timeout was the same: keep running, because the Cavs cannot match-up with them in transition. Zach McCann of Orlando Magic Daily called it in his keys to the game post this morning. It was fairly easy to see what makes Cleveland a poor fast-break defensive team: it doesn't stop the ball. Off missed shots, Orlando ballhandlers were allowed to streak up the center of the court unimpeded for much of the game.
More on the game after the jump.
Even in the half-court, the Magic had their way. It didn't matter that Howard got off to a rough start against Zydrunas Ilgauskas because everyone else did their job. I really can't say enough about how well Rafer Alston ran this team tonight. Being defended by Mo Williams might have something to do with it, but Skip was nonetheless able to turn the corner on the screen-and-roll, then make the pass to an open teammate as the defense collapsed on him. He finished with 10 assists and only 2 turnovers, but more importantly hit the open mid-range jumper when it presented itself. Essentially, he was Jameer Nelson tonight, except Jameer wouldn't miss 4 three-pointers in 5 attempts.
However, Rafer might have been Orlando's second-best playmaker tonight. Hedo Turkoglu finished with 6 assists, 4 fewer than Alston, but his overall ability to draw the defense and force it to make decisions was key in Orlando's win. In addition to his passing, he scored 13 points of his own on 6-of-7 shooting, missing his lone three-point attempt. He's always a threat to simply pull-up from the left baseline while fading out-of-bounds, but if a defender takes that away from him, he'll just go all the way to the rim and at least draw contact. It makes him a tough cover and the Magic's leader in verbal flops.
(I wish that were an actual statistic)
Orlando's defense might be more impressive, however. Cleveland, the league's 4th-most-efficient offense, found few passing lanes, few open looks, few shots in the lane, few second-chance opportunities despite all the missed shots... wow. LeBron James tallied "only" 26 points, 9 boards, and 5 assists, but shot 7-of-20 from the field and rarely got into the lane. It wasn't so much the man guarding him who deterred him, but rather the man behind the man guarding him. Once again, James was reluctant to drive the ball to the basket against Howard, settling for pull-up jumpers. He was unable to get into any sort of rhythm. Neither was any other Cavalier, with the possible exception of Ilgauskas, who did all his damage in the first half.
I hesitate to make too much of this win, but then again, Orlando held a 41-point, second-half lead against the best team in the NBA tonight. That's special. And based on the overall season-series with the Cavs, one has to believe Orlando stands a better chance than most other teams of supplanting them in the playoffs. Two blowout wins at home, one very close loss on the road to Cleveland. That's encouraging for the Magic. And again, before accusing me of being a homer, check out how Tom Ziller put it for FanHouse:
Anyone still arguing that Orlando lacks some necessary "it" factor heading into the playoffs needs to watch this game. Maybe the Magic will lose in the second round or conference finals. But don't be shocked if they represent the East in the Finals. This team is incredible.
The Magic have no time to celebrate, though. It's off to Atlanta for another game Saturday.
Finally, a few things I simply couldn't work into the recap proper:
Adonal Foyle played for the first time since re-joining the Magic two weeks ago. A little over a minute after checking in, he blocked a shot. The man is always prepared.
Marcin Gortat put an exclamation mark on the Magic's win by scoring their last points with the first three-pointer of his career.
Anthony Johnson banked-in a three-pointer from the right corner, which would have been his personal highlight of the night had he not thrown down a two-handed slam on a fast break just moments later.
Lewis really was on fire in the third period. You know he's on when he's swishing a three-pointer from the top of the arc...off a between-the-legs dribble. Gah.
Tyronn Lue made a rare appearance and shot three treys, making two, in the game's closing moments. I'm not sure why he was shooting threes with a 34-point lead, but whatever.