Dribbles: Cavs Should Make Magic Vanish Quickly in Playoffs

Random dribbles ahead of the Cavaliers’ first-round matchup with the Orlando Magic in the NBA playoffs. …Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland Cavaliers, Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic, NBA

1. There’s no time like the present for the Cavs to blast away those playoff memories from last season. This is their chance. The NBA has handed them a gift. No one in the entire league has an easier first-round matchup — on paper, anyway — than the Cavs.

2. That’s no disrespect to the Magic. They had an inspiring season. No one predicted them to make the playoffs, much less finish with the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference. This a franchise on the rise, and former Cavs assistant and current Magic coach Jamahl Mosley deserves a lot of credit. He’s one of the NBA’s truly great dudes.

3. But like the Cavs last season, this year’s Magic feature tons of playoff rookies. Last season for Cleveland it was Darius Garland, Evan Mobley, Isaac Okoro, and a few others. Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen barely had any playoff experience. It showed. New York pushed around the Cavs, showing them that the playoffs truly are a different game.

4. This year, it’s Orlando that lacks postseason proficiency. All-Star center Paolo Banchero has never been. Neither have forward Franz Wagner, guards Jalen Suggs and Cole Anthony. Those are the Magic’s top scorers and defenders. And that’s just the start of such a list for them. Mosley has never been to the playoffs as a head coach, either.

5. I’m not going to go on and on about why the Cavs will win this series. But they really did luck into (or perhaps orchestrate) the most favorable matchup possible. They’re better off playing the Magic than they would be the Philadelphia 76ers, Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers or Chicago Bulls, all among the other possibilities.

6. Why? Because history shows newcomers don’t win in the NBA playoffs. Plus, at this stage, the Cavs are the better team. I didn’t think they were last year against the Knicks. I do this time, though.

7. That said, the Magic have great size. Banchero and Wagner are 6-foot-10. So is Wendell Carter Jr. Moritz Wagner is 6-11. Last year, the physicality near the basket proved to be too much for Allen and Mobley. They have made it clear they’re determined not to let that be the case again. In fact, all the Cavs have indicated as much.

8. More than anything, to me, is the status of Donovan Mitchell. He looks healthy again and has said himself that is indeed the case. Suggs is a top-notch defender, but in the NBA, offense defeats defense (at least, given the current rules). I do expect the Magic to “blitz” Mitchell when he gets the ball — much like the Knicks did last year.

9. This time, though, the rest of the Cavs will be better prepared for it. So will Mitchell. And it’s a lot different when a veteran team such as the Knicks is doing it, as opposed to a younger squad like the Magic.

10. The only thing that would stop the Cavs is a meltdown. I know some fans say that is coming. I disagree. This is the series that can and should get them back on track. I don’t see any way Miami or Chicago gets past Boston, especially with Jimmy Butler reportedly sidelined for the Heat.

11. So Cavs in five or six. Then they will get top-seeded Boston. But one series at a time. The Cavs made it to the first round last season. The next natural step is to play in the East finals. I predict they will get there. Beyond that, well, we will make that call when the time comes.

12. But the Cavs need to save some face after an uneven close to the regular season. They were incredible to kick off 2024, then wildly inconsistent since the All-Star break. Now, they have to take advantage of the matchup with which they’ve been blessed. The Magic will be playing as if they have nothing to lose, but it’s also a “just happy to be there” scenario. Everything is there for Cleveland to rise.

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