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Magic vs. Cavaliers preview: A must-win game in a must-win stretch

The Magic kick off a five-game homestand, the first four of which are against sub-.500 teams

NBA: Orlando Magic at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The hour is getting late for the Orlando Magic.

The Magic won four of five games just one week ago, including victories over the Golden State Warriors and Indiana Pacers. However, the Magic have also suffered recent letdowns to the Knicks, Cavaliers, Grizzlies and Wizards.

With Wednesday’s 100-90 loss to the Washington Wizards, the Magic fall a full two games behind the Miami Heat for the East’s lone remaining playoff spot. After choosing to retain Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross past the trade deadline, the goal was inevitably to make a push and the Magic looked to be in every bit the position with the league’s fifth-easiest remaining strength of schedule.

There are now just 13 games left to catch the Heat, and to do it, they can’t suffer any more letdowns. Enter the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Cleveland Cavaliers walk into Amway with the league’s third-worst record as the Magic start a five-game homestand (the first four of which are against sub-.500 teams). The Cavs, with the league’s 26th-rated offense and 30th-defense, have lost three of their past four, but they’ve remained competitive of late. Without Kevin Love, the Cavaliers nearly pulled off another upset at the hands of the Philadelphia 76ers just two nights after a decisive 126-101 victory over the league’s second-best team (48 wins) in the Toronto Raptors, at full strength(!!).

Collin Sexton has been steadily improving all season long and brought the Cavaliers within one point with a layup against the 76ers with 3:10 remaining. Sexton underwhelmed early in the season, drawing ire from veteran teammates, but has been downright impressive in his past three games.

The return of Kevin Love (toe) has been another significant reason for the Cavs resurgent play. Though he sat against the 76ers (rest), Love has been adding 19 points, ten rebounds and two assists in minimal time in his previous nine match-ups.

At first glance, most would expect a low scoring affair. The Cavaliers fail to push the pace (29th), but they’ve still managed 107 points or more in 10 of their previous 12 contests, much due to the addition of Love.

Another recent addition to watch has been point guard Brandon Knight, who has scored 11 or more points in three straight contests while shooting 50% from the field. The Cavaliers have employed him next to Sexton and while he’s disappointed in his 25 appearances this season (45%eFG), he’s still capable of scoring in high volumes.

Jordan Clarkson (15 ppg), Cedi Osman (14.9 ppg) and Ante Zizic (11.4 ppg) round out the rest of the scoring and have each scored in double-digits over the past ten games.

The Magic desperately need to win to ensure a chance at the East’s eighth remaining spot. The race is a dead-heat between the Magic and Miami Heat, who each are tied at 31 wins with one promising to make the playoffs while the other falls into the lottery.

The Magic lost to these same Cavaliers two weeks ago (107-93) in one of the more disappointing losses of the season. The Cavaliers are 57-51 lifetime against the Magic.

Projected Starters:

Magic - Augustin - Fournier - Isaac - Gordon - Vucevic

Cavaliers - Sexton - Knight - Osman - Love - Zizic

Injury Report:

Tristan Thompson (out), Matthew Dellavedova (out), Larry Nance Jr (doubtful)

Where To Watch

What: Orlando Magic (31-38) vs Cleveland Cavaliers (17-51)

Where: Amway Center, Orlando, FL

When: Thursday, March 14th, 2018, 7:00 p.m. Eastern

How: Fox Sports Florida