The Magic tip off tonight as the opponent of the Cavaliers in both stature and philosophy.
On one end, you have a playoff ready group of young vets, thirsty of more of the success that prompted their 22-9 finish to the 2018-19 season.
On the other, you have a group of young players yearning for opportunities to develop their game and begin to find their NBA footing.
The future isn’t now in Cleveland. While the Cavaliers do boast a five-time All-Star in Kevin Love and a group of solid veterans in Tristan Thompson, Matthew Dellevadova and Brandon Knight, the team is much more concerned with the trajectory of Collin Sexton, Kevin Porter Jr. and Darius Garland.
While Love may lead the Cavs in scoring tonight, all the eyes will be on Garland. Garland was sidelined from much of his freshmen year due to a meniscus injury (think Zion Williamson, Russell Westbrook, Dwayne Wade and Blake Griffin) but the rookie could emerge as a dark-horse candidate for Rookie of the Year, especially given Zion’s early season absence.
The Cavaliers will also get plenty of juice from Larry Nance Jr. Jordan Clarkson and Cedi Osman.
But this game is the Magic’s to win. Last year’s All-Star Nikola Vucevic leads a confident group of veterans in DJ Augustin and Evan Fournier to go along with Most Improved candidates Aaron Gordon and Jonathan Isaac. The Magic are lethal when Terrence Ross’s shot falls and they still have plenty of optimism in the growth of Mo Bamba and Markelle Fultz. For Fultz, it will be his first regular season game since November of 2017.
One thing is for sure, head coach Steve Clifford will have his team dialed in early defensively. The league’s fifth-best defenisve team over the second half of last season returns all of its major components. We may see some offensive ineptitude but this team’s length and tenacity should ensure a substantial victory.