For the Orlando Magic, few things summarized their recent struggles better than their 17-game losing streak versus the Cleveland Cavaliers and their 18-game slide against LeBron James. That's why their wire-to-wire destruction of the reigning Eastern Conference champions in October was supposed to be a major turning point.
In reality, however, the two teams have progressed...or regressed to their usual form since then. The Cavs, who started the season 3-5, quickly reeled off a, 18-1 stretch which has catapulted them from the dregs of the Eastern Conference to the 3 seed. The Magic, who used that win in Cleveland to power an NBA-best 6-2 record to start the season, have since endured two separate nine-game losing streaks, are now tied with the Memphis Grizzlies for the third-worst record in the NBA.
For the Magic, the key to this game will be as simple as containing the best player in the NBA and stopping one of the deadliest three-point shooting teams in the league. Orlando started the year as the best three-point shooting team in the league, as well as one of the best at defending the long ball. Now, the Magic are No. 24 in three-point percentage and No. 28 in percentage allowed from deep. Conversely, the Cavs are sixth in three-point percentage.
If the Magic can play team basketball and limit the Cavs' seamless offensive attack, they may be able to catch lightning in a bottle at home in the way they did in Cleveland. The defense, which will be without key cog Jonathon Simmons, would benefit from creating turnovers and aggressive rebounding to limit the Cavs' number of shot attempts.
Line: Cleveland -8.5
Orlando — Jonathan Isaac (Ankle) – OUT; Terrence Ross (Knee) – OUT; Jonathon Simmons (Back) – OUT; Nikola Vucevic (Hand) – OUT
Cleveland — Kevin Love (Ankle) – IN; Derrick Rose (Ankle) – OUT; Iman Shumpert (Knee) – OUT