An under-strength and exhausted Magic team rolled into Cleveland on the second night of a back-to-back sequence, looking to rebound from their poor showing only 24 hours earlier. Unfortunately it was an assignment made more difficult by the scratchings of Cole Anthony and Mo Bamba, the pair of whom were joined after halftime by Terrence Ross as a result of a back complaint. Predictably the Magic couldn’t offset their absences, falling to the Cavs 105-92 despite hanging tight for much of the night.
Gary Harris got things started for the Magic, with a steal leading to a transition three that opened the scoring. However, a turnover on the next possession kickstarted a sequence of empty possessions that allowed the Cavaliers to jump out to an early lead. A mid-range jumper to Wendell Carter Jr. stemmed the tide, as did a classic Robin Lopez slow motion hook shot. In fact, that latter play worked so well that the Magic kept dialing it up, with the veteran center finishing in the same manner on two of the next three Orlando possessions. WCJ chimed in with five quick points of his own and the game was locked up, the scores level at 16.
Unfortunately the Magic’s struggling defense meant that any scoring progress was being undone at the other end. Cleveland’s guards were finding plenty of success getting into the lane, while their cadre of athletic bigs were able to terrorize Orlando’s frontline on the offensive glass. The Cavs snatched 5 offensive rebounds in the first quarter alone, going on to tally 20 of their first 22 points from the painted area to emphasize their dominance in this aspect of the game. As a result it was a small deficit facing the Magic at quarter time, down 27-22 at the opening break.
The three point line continued to keep the Magic in the contest, with Terrence Ross chiming in from behind the arc before Mo Wagner got a pair to go on back-to-back possessions. His second briefly pushed Orlando back in front, at which point the game settled into a metronomical rhythm. Back and forth the two teams went, trading opportunities but neither claiming any sort of measurable ascendancy. In fact, across the quarter’s last 7:57 neither side was able to string together more than five consecutive points, testament to the yo-yoing nature of the affair. When the half-time siren sounded it was suitably close, the Magic down just 54-49.
It was a balanced effort from Orlando across the game’s first 24 minutes, with all five starters posting between 6 and 9 points. Both Harris and Jalen Suggs were noticeable in their ability to generate turnovers and push for transition chances, while WCJ was an effective anchor for the team on offense on his way to 9 points and 5 rebounds. 47.7% team shooting (including 5-12 from deep) helped to offset the 7 turnovers and 7 offensive rebounds surrendered, as did the slight advantage the Magic held in fast break points at the half (11-9).
Cleveland got the first 8 points from the floor in the third, going on a quick 11-3 run across the first 3:18 of the quarter. Rebounding continued to cause problems for the Magic, with the Cavs extending a number of positions after players failed to box out effectively. Still, with an emphasis on ball movement and some improved defensive energy they were able to chip away at the deficit. Another Lopez hook shot. Some free throws to WCJ. A Suggs triple against a backpedaling defense. The latter sliced the margin to just 6 but it was as close as Orlando would get during the period, the Cavaliers steadying and extending their advantage back to double-digits. From this point cold shooting afflicted both teams across the closing minutes, with neither registering a point across a 2:44 stretch that was eventually snapped by a Moe Wagner triple with 4.0 seconds remaining in the quarter.
The Magic went into the final frame trailing 78-69, trimming it a little further on the back of a strong and-one finish to RJ Hampton. However, the team couldn’t find the bottom of the net from deep (missing their first five long-range attempts in the period), a fact also exacerbated by their wayward free-throw shooting; the Magic missed three freebies in the quarter’s first four minutes, pushing their charity stripe mark to just 7-15 on the night (they would finish 14-23). For two teams separated by just single digits it was a worrying sign.
Sure enough, those near misses proved costly for the Magic all too soon. Coming out of a time out Cleveland ripped off 8 straight points, with Darius Garland and Evan Mobley doing damage both inside and out. Orlando’s play, comparatively, was punctuated by a general aimlessness with the ball in hand, resulting in long, contested triples at the end of possessions as the hole got deeper. With the score blowing out to 91-75 the Magic went to the huddle searching for answers.
A decisive WCJ drive and finish provided a glimpse of a comeback, but a turnover and four straight misses from the field closed the door on any such possibility. The game eventually petered out over the final minutes, the Cavs doing what was needed to maintain their advantage despite the Magic extending a little bit of full court pressure in a bid to get back into it. It wasn’t enough, Cleveland ultimately claiming the decision 105-92.
Orlando’s three stars
Hockey is a pretty great sport, so I thought I would steal one of its best little touches for my own game analysis: the three stars. Here is who caught my eye tonight.
First star: Wendell Carter Jr.— 19 points, 11 rebounds, an assist and 2 steals made for a solid night for the big man, who was frequently the Magic’s best option on offense and their most solid deterrent on defense. He was whacked in the face in the closing minutes, copping an unfair ejection for his trouble.
Second star: Gary Harris — did basically all of his damage in the first half, finishing with 11 points and 4 steals that sparked a decent transition game for the Magic early. Still can’t find a rhythm from deep, but managed to make some level of impact elsewhere.
Third star: Franz Wagner — despite a tough shooting night (4-13) the rookie wing still managed to compile 12 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists and a steal in another well-rounded performance. He’s getting some burn as the backup point guard and looking intriguingly good when doing so.
With over a quarter of the season now done the Magic fall to 4-17, with a road date against the 76ers looming on Monday.