By John Denton Jan. 18, 2018
CLEVELAND – Fresh off their stirring home defeat of the red-hot and surging Minnesota Timberwolves, the Orlando Magic now must face a similarly powerful team that is sliding in the opposite direction. And the Magic know full well that might be a dangerous proposition.
In the Cleveland Cavaliers (26-17), the Magic (13-31) will be facing a team that has lost four in a row and eight of the last 10 games. Cleveland has struggled mightily on the defensive end of the floor and while incorporating point guard Isaiah Thomas into the starting lineup. Tonight, the Cavs could be trying to do something similar with the expected return of Derrick Rose following a 36-game absence because of an ankle injury.
Orlando, which has split two decisions with Cleveland so far this season, knows that it will likely face a highly motivated Cavs team tonight at Quicken Loans Arena.
``Cleveland has obviously struggled of late and I don’t know if that’s necessarily a good thing for us,’’ Magic coach Frank Vogel said. ``They’re going to be working extremely hard to get things right. I’m sure they will bring great passion and intensity to the game. Obviously, they are ultra-talented, so we will have to try and beat them at their best.’’
Orlando was near its best on Tuesday night in a 108-102 defeat of Minnesota, a game where the Magic shared the ball beautifully and also held a 51-37 rebounding edge on the Timberwolves. The Magic got a career-best 32 points and six 3-pointers from Evan Fournier in that game. More surprisingly, backup center Khem Birch chipped in 12 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots – a performance that will see him in the Magic’s rotation tonight.
``It’s not one of those things where you can scout him and say, `We’re going to take him out of that,’ because he’s an activity player who has good speed and good recovery speed defensively,’’ Vogel said of Birch. ``He has good instincts and he’s a good player. … He earned another chance – that’s the best way to put it. He played at a level to stay in the lineup.’’
Orlando still hasn’t heard whether or not it will have veteran forward Arron Afflalo, who was ejected from Tuesday’s game following a fight with Minnesota’s Nemanja Bjelica. Afflalo threw two wild punches at the Timberwolves forward, but didn’t fully connect. He is hoping that his long track record as a good citizen on and off the floor will spare him from being suspended.
``It’s an unfortunate incident and just competitive nature and an isolated incident within a particular play,’’ a remorseful Afflalo said on Wednesday.
Vogel said the Magic will approach Afflalo’s status the same way the team would do with an injured player who is a game-time decision to play.
The Magic won in Cleveland in the second game of the season, but lost to the Cavaliers two weeks ago in Orlando. As it turns out, that was one of the Cavaliers few good games in recent weeks. The Magic know they will likely face a hungry Cleveland team tonight led by LeBron James, Kevin Love and Thomas.
``That’s no different than any game all year – we always expect the other team’s best,’’ Vogel said. ``We’re just going to have to make sure that we manage runs and play with great intensity and be very locked in mentally on trying to get a win.’’
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