Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Five Keys: Cavaliers vs. Magic

Fernando Medina/NBAE/Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor

Key: Magic Show

For the second time in less than two weeks, the Orlando Magic will face a Wine & Gold team that’s stinging after a tough loss to a top opponent.

The last time these two met, on January 6 in central Florida – three nights after a tough loss in Boston – the Cavaliers ran out to a 24-point second-half lead before holding off a furious Magic rally to earn their 18th win in the last 19 meetings against Orlando. The one loss among those 19 contests came earlier this season at The Q, as the Magic handed Cleveland an embarrassing three-touchdown home loss back on October 21.

On Monday night, the Cavaliers lost to the Warriors for the second time this season, falling for the eighth time in their last 10 outings.

Hopefully, they can turn things around against a team that had lost 16 of its previous 17 games before dropping Minnesota at the Amway Center on Tuesday night. The Cavaliers would love to get themselves straight on this brief three-game homestand. Right now, Orlando is the ideal opponent for them to start with.

Key: Rosy Outlook

The point guard position has been a revolving door for most of the season in Cleveland – with Derrick Rose beginning the season as the team’s starter, Jose Calderon taking over when Rose was injured and Isaiah Thomas working his way back from a hip injury and into the rotation around the beginning of the calendar year.

Calderon didn’t put up huge individual numbers, but went 16-8 in his 24 starts. Thomas has been up and down since his return – calling his positive performances “fool’s gold” as he tries to work himself back to the I.T. of old. In his first five games back, the East’s reigning scoring champ has had some solid moments, but is shooting just 36 percent from the floor despite a pair of 19-point performances, including Monday’s loss to Golden State.

That brings us to Derrick Rose, who could be back in uniform on Thursday night against Orlando. The former MVP hasn’t played since November 7 in a win over Milwaukee. In just seven games, Rose did post double-figures in each of his seven appearances, shooting 47 percent from the floor in the process.

It’ll take some time (again) to work another player into the rotation, but the Cavaliers would obviously rather have excess depth than a shorthanded squad.

Key: History Teacher

LeBron James always seems to be on the edge of reaching another historic milestone, and the one he’s on the cusp of is a big one – looking to become just the seventh player in NBA history (and the youngest) to reach the 30,000-point plateau – joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain and Dirk Nowitzki.

James needs just 41 points to reach that mark (although after Thursday’s shootaround James said he hopes he doesn’t do it on Thursday – since his kids have school tomorrow).

If he has a performance like he did the last two times these teams met, he’ll be right on the edge – having dropped 33 points on the Magic back on January 6 in Orlando. In that win, the four-time MVP went 12-for-23 from the floor, including 4-of-7 from long-range, to go with 10 boards, nine assists, a season-high six steals and a blocked shot.

LeBron notched his 16th 30-point game of the season on Monday night against Golden State, finishing with 32 points on 12-for-18 shooting, adding eight boards and six assists in 36 minutes of work.

Key: Middle Men

The loss of Nikola Vucevic, the longest-tenured player on Orlando’s roster, was a huge blow to the Magic this season.

Frank Vogel’s team got off to a strong start before coming back down to earth in mid-November and December. But the loss of Vucevic – who led Orlando with 23 points in the first meeting against Cleveland this season – has put the Magic in a more difficult spot.

Bismack Biyombo has taken over the center spot and, while having nowhere near the offensive skill-set of Vucevic, has been very good on that end of late – posting three straight double-figure games heading into tonight’s contest, including a season-high 21-point, 13-rebound performance, going 8-for-9 from the floor in a loss last Wednesday to the Wizards.

Biyombo will have his hands full on Thursday night, facing off against Kevin Love – who dropped 27 points on the Magic in the January 6 meeting in Orlando – going 6-of-12 from long-distance in just 28 minutes of work.

And Love’s been excellent at home this season – averaging 21.9 points on 54 percent shooting from the floor, including 48 percent from beyond the arc to go with 9.9 rebounds in 14 games at The Q dating back to November 7.

Key: Reserve Judgment

With players returning to the Cavaliers rotation, Head Coach Tyronn Lue has his work cut out for him.

Derrick Rose is expected to be back tonight (or in the very near future) as is Iman Shumpert, who’s played just a single game since November 17. (In the 13 games Shump has played in this year, his best was the November 21 loss to Orlando at The Q – finishing with a season-high 21 points, going 5-of-14 from the floor, including 4-of-5 from long-range.)

Rose and Shumpert will join a second unit that’s been one of the Cavaliers’ true strong suits all season. Aside from Dwyane Wade’s 10-point performance, the Wine & Gold didn’t much from their bench in Monday’s loss to Golden State. Jeff Green – who’d notched double-figures in six of the previous seven games – finished with just six points against the Warriors. Kyle Korver’s been struggling even worse – tallying double-figures in just two of his previous 10 outings.

Tristan Thompson has been good on the boards since his return, but has notched just two points in each of his last two outings and has tallied double-figures in just two outings all season.

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