30/05/2024

Donovan Mitchell will have a big say in who wins this series (Photo: Erik Drost/Wikimedia Commons)

The Cleveland Cavaliers and Orlando Magic both want to exorcise their playoff demons.

Crippling droughts are hanging over the heads of these two teams, with this series the best chance for either team to break their playoff duck.  

Cleveland is hoping to win a playoff series without LeBron James – something they have failed to do over the last 31 years. Meanwhile, the Magic want to taste success in the postseason for the first time in 14 seasons.     

Featuring two young and exciting teams, this series is set to provide some excitement.

Context

It has taken some time for the Cavs to rebuild after the departures of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, however they are now shaping nicely. Headlined by five-time All-Star Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland has the perfect balance on court. 

Mitchell’s offensive foray compliments a tenacious Darius Garland and the lethal sharpshooting of Max Strus. The defensive juggernaut of Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley have caused numerous headaches for opposing teams this season. 

Cleveland eclipsed 45 wins for the second consecutive season, placing fourth in the Eastern Conference standings. Mitchell averaged nearly 27 points a game, en route to another All-Star appearance, while Allen put up a double-double on average yet again.  

There have been slight concerns surrounding the fitness of the Cavs’ leading scorer, however he insists he is fully fit for the playoffs. He has been managed in some games during the second half of the season with bone bruising on his knee and a broken nose. 

As for the Orlando Magic, the days of being cellar dwellers are over. Winning just 22 games two seasons ago, the Magic more than doubled that win tally in the 2023/24 season. Lead by a superb sophomore year from Paolo Banchero, the Magic secured the fifth seed in the East, reaching 47 wins. Averaging nearly 23 points and seven rebounds per game, Banchero was awarded his first All-Star jersey this season. 

While Orlando are 24th for points scored on average, it’s their defensive prowess that has them in contention. Boasting the third-best defensive rating in the competition, the Magic are well equipped to ensure this series is not a walkover.  

Franz Wagner, Jalen Suggs and Cole Anthony have also given Magic fans something to be excited about. The trio have been instrumental in their varying roles this season.  

Playing just 13 games since January 2020, Jonathan Isaac was prolific in his first season back from a horror run with injury. Establishing himself as a bona fide defender, Isaac provided some quality minutes off the bench.  

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Head-to-Head

In their four encounters this season, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Orlando Magic have split proceedings.  

Despite a career-high 42 points for Paolo Banchero in the first match, Cleveland won by 10 points, behind Donovan Mitchell’s 35. 

The Magic gained redemption five days later however as they kept the Cavaliers to a then season low of 94 points. Facing an undermanned frontcourt, Banchero took full advantage, posting a 20-point double-double. 

In January, the Cavs blew out Orlando after shooting guard Sam Merrill scored 26 points off the bench. With 20 of those points coming before half time, the game was over early as Cleveland won 126-99. 

A month later, it was the Magic bench who put the sword to their first-round opponents. Outscoring the Cavs bench 63-24, Orlando cruised to a 116-109 victory. 

Key Matchup

Paolo Banchero v Evan Mobley

Orlando’s chances in this series surround the performance of leading scorer Paolo Banchero. A big reason as to why the Magic are the fifth seed, the quality of the Cavaliers defence means Banchero must showcase his talent. 

Matching up against 2023 All-Defensive First Team player Evan Mobley, Banchero will be under a lot of pressure. Mobley has had another stellar season for the Cavs, averaging a near 16-point double-double, as well as 1.4 blocks and 0.9 steals per match. 

The pair have only duelled once this season, with Mobley limiting Banchero to 12 points on 4/15 shooting. Orlando still picked up the win, but Cleveland were without Donovan Mitchell. 

Prediction: Cavaliers in 6

Expect this series to live up to the hype. Featuring two teams with bright futures ahead of them, what we see in this series could be a taste of what’s to come. Although Orlando have matched it with Cleveland this season, the Cavaliers were undermanned in both or their losses. 

The defence of the Orlando Magic will be under real threat as they must contend with a fit Donovan Mitchell. Meanwhile, Cleveland’s defence will be too strong for an inexperienced Orlando outfit. Paolo Banchero needs to have a coming-of-age series if they are any chance to win their first series in 14 years.     

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