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Cleveland Cavaliers 115, Orlando Magic 106

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In the final game for both squads before All-Star weekend in Dallas, the Cleveland Cavaliers - owners of the best record in the league at 43-11 - defeated the Orlando Magic by the score of 115-106. The Cavaliers were led by LeBron James, who had 32 points (10-12 FG, 2-6 3PT, 10-12 FT), 8 rebounds, 13 assists, and 2 steals, showing why he is the prohibitive favorite to win a second-consecutive NBA Most Valuable Player Award by the end of the regular season. Power forwards J.J. Hickson and Anderson Varejao chipped in with efficient performances by accumulating point totals of 20 (9-14 FG) and 16 (8-11 FG), respectively. Balance was the name of the game for the Magic, playing on a back-to-back and its fourth game in five days, as five players scored in double-figures with Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis pacing the group. Howard had 19 points (6-9 FG, 7-10 FT), 11 rebounds, and 2 blocks, while Lewis had 19 points (6-14 FG, 3-9 3PT, 4-6 FT). It was a well-played game by a pair of Eastern Conference juggernauts, but James was too good down the stretch and Orlando ultimately fell short in its effort to snap Cleveland's 12-game (now 13) winning streak.

 

Team Pace Efficiency eFG% FT Rate OReb% TO Rate
Magic 90 118.2 54.7% 32.0 21.6 12.8
Cavaliers 90 128.3 57.7% 21.4 28.2 5.9
Green denotes a stat better than the team's season average;
red denotes a stat worse than the team's season average.

In what has been a pattern for the Cavaliers all season, but even more so lately, the team got off to a quick start against an opponent in the first quarter. For the year, Cleveland leads the NBA with 28.6 first quarter points per game. In the Cavaliers' last five games, the team is averaging 34.6 first quarter points per game (not adjusting for pace). So, it's no surprise that Cleveland scored 37 points in the opening frame against Orlando. But given the history between the Cavaliers and the Magic in the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals, it's really no surprise. Cleveland has made a habit of amassing sizable leads against Orlando at Quicken Loans Arena in the last few meetings between the two elite teams, dating back to the playoffs this past season. However, the Magic always find ways to make up the deficit. 

 

Last night was no different for Orlando.

 

Hickson and James got things going for the Cavaliers in the first quarter, scoring 28 of the team's 37 points and doing it with ease. In Hickson's case, he was able to get a few dunks (four in total) and easy buckets without much resistance because Shaquille O'Neal was being double-teamed by Lewis. Other times, the Magic just didn't care to defend Hickson. As for James, he connected on a few jumpers here and there but did most of his damage at the free-throw line because he was being aggressive and attacking the basket. 

 

Cleveland was rockin' and rollin' heading into the second quarter with a 14-point lead but the lead evaporated as Orlando, led by a combination of starters and reserves, started to make threes. Six of them, to be exact. That was the reason why the Magic were able to come back in the game during the period because the Cavaliers, on the other hand, did not attempt nor make a three-point shot in the quarter. Although Cleveland scored 29 points in the period - Varejao accounted for 14 of them by making shots left and right - and did it without much help from James as he seemed content to defer to his teammates, Orlando scored 40 points to cut the deficit to three at halftime. From then, it was game on.

 

In the third quarter, the Magic were able to take its first lead of the game at 69-68 on a layup from Lewis. The offense was clicking, the defense was tightening up, and it seemed like Orlando was taking control as it was able to extend the margin to five. With roughly six and a half minutes to go, however, James was able to draw Howard's fourth foul and force head coach Stan Van Gundy to make a decision. It was nearly the same exact choice that Van Gundy had to make when the Magic played the Boston Celtics on Sunday. Either leave Howard in and run the risk of him picking up his fifth foul or take him out and choosing to play it safe. Against the Celtics, Van Gundy gambled and let Howard stay on the court (a move that paid off) but against the Cavaliers, he elected for the other option. Perhaps what influenced Van Gundy's decision was the fact that Orlando was trailing by six versus Boston, as opposed to leading by five versus Cleveland. 

 

Who knows.

 

One thing is for sure, it was a decision that Van Gundy regretted making after the game was over.

 

With Howard on the bench, the Magic's offense stagnated the remainder of the quarter. As such, the Cavaliers were able to reclaim the lead and finish the period up by four. 

 

Orlando made a brief comeback in the fourth quarter, had a two-point lead with roughly six minutes to go, and were in a position to win. But the Magic, then, attempted too many jumpshots and neglected to play inside-out (practically the same way the team lost to the Los Angeles Lakers roughly a month ago) after a Howard hook shot allowed the team to take a 96-94 lead. Here's the play-by-play data:

 

FOURTH QUARTER

- [6:56] Mickael Pietrus misses three-point 26' jump shot 

- [6:39] Jameer Nelson bad pass

- [5:56] Jameer Nelson misses layup

- [5:20] Dwight Howard turnover

- [4:50] Rashard Lewis misses three-point 23' jump shot

- [4:03] Jameer Nelson misses shot

- [3:34] Jameer Nelson misses three-point 23' jump shot

- [3:04] Vince Carter misses 8' jump shot

 

Not good. Oh, and James decided to take over.

 

Yes, he sparked the game-clinching 11-0 run that decided the game for Cleveland but James was dominant throughout the period, assisting or scoring on 20 of the team's 28 points and making ridiculous shots despite textbook defense from Mickael Pietrus. That's why he's "King James" ... seriously. 

 

All in all, a tough loss but one that Orlando can learn from.