Trying to tread water in a surprisingly competitive Eastern Conference and having been competitive in most games this season, a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, a team poised to run away with the number one seed early in the season and a team that they have lost 10 straight to, was definitely a game where the Magic had to prove themselves. Like they have done all season, the Magic stayed competitive for most of the game, but at the end of the day, the Cavaliers showed why they are one of the favorites to win it all this year.
The Magic got off to a rocky start as the Cavs lead by double digits early in the 1st quarter. They were stuck in a halfcourt game and their floor balance was compromised as the Cavs made it an effort to get out in transition. However, they weathered the storm with a few timely buckets, including a Victor Oladipo buzzer beater at the end of the quarter.
In the 2nd quarter, the Magic continued roaring back as they took advantage of LeBron’s rest period and at one point took an eight point lead midway through the quarter thanks to Andrew Nicholson, who was able to score 13 points and hit three 3-pointers in the quarter for a total of 15 points in the first half. However, once LeBron came back in the game, the Cavs went on a run of their own, mostly by way of Kevin Love who at one point scored 15 straight points for Cleveland, finishing with 20 of his first half 27 in the quarter. Love would finish the night with a game high 34. Still, the Magic were able to keep the game close at the end of the half and trailed 55-59 in a high scoring affair.
As has been the case throughout much of the early season, the second doomed the Magic. As the Magic offense began stalling, Cleveland hit them with a flurry of 3-pointers early in the half, knocking the Magic's upset bid upside down.
Orlando was outscored 33-21 in the third quarter and trailed by as many as 23 in the second half. They were able to make a small run in the fourth quarter and cut the lead to 12 with the like of Shabazz Napier, Mario Hezonja, Aaron Gordon, Channing Frye and Dewayne Dedmon on the floor. However, LeBron proved to be too much, continuing tp pick the Magic apart in the pick-and-roll game, whipping the ball out to open shooters all night. The Cavs finished the night with 18 3-pointers, 16 of which came from Love, J.R. Smith and Matthew Dellavedova.
The Magic's defense appeared to be a rotation short all night, failing to not only slow down the Cavaliers hot shooters. but the best player on the planet in James. James, who has picked apart the Magic his entire career, finished with 15 points and 13 assists. Nicholson led the Magic in scoring with 18 points on 6/9 shooting, while Evan Fournier added 13 points on 4/5 shooting and a perfect 3/3 from 3 point range.
Along with Nicholson, the likes of Gordon and Napier had solid games off the bench as well, finishing with 11 points on 5/10 shooting for Gordon, and 11 points and a career-high 9 assists for Napier, who was asked to pick up the slack at point guard with Elfrid Payton struggling. Frye also hit three late 3s in Orlando’s late fourth quarter run before the Cavs put the game away for good. Payton was held scoreless and missed all seven of his shots, which were mostly open jumpers. He struggled running the offense and was part of the reason why Orlando got off to a bad start and struggled in the second half, with the team being -19 with the second-year man on the floor.
The Magic play the 8-7 New York Knicks Wednesday in another matchup against an Eastern Conference team that will impact their standing in the Eastern Conference. While Orlando has started better than in previous years, the East has gotten much better and they will have to play much better if they want to make the playoffs. Hopefully, this was just a case of getting caught in a buzz saw against the best team in the conference and there are better games to come from this young team.