“Effort and focus.”
When the Orlando Magic take the floor for their road matchup against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET, head coach Jamahl Mosley is expecting his squad to bring those two elements to the hardwood at a high level.
Regardless of the fact that the Magic are dealing with a number of injuries as well as re-integrating players into their lineup, their head coach believes those are two qualities that should be staples of the squad night in and night out.
“Some of it is the rotations, guys coming in and out of lineups, but when you step on the floor you have to be locked in and ready to go,” Mosley explained. “Whether that’s a pregame routine, whatever it is to get yourself going, it’s part of that. When you step on the floor with your teammates, you’ve got to be ready to follow the game plan.”
One of the players that Orlando’s head coach will lean on to set that tone is Markelle Fultz. While the 6-foot-4 point guard certainly displayed some signs of rust in his season debut, his passion for the game, ability to put his teammates in the right spots, and his willingness to play with pace and the pass were overwhelmingly evident.
“That’s who he is,” said Mosley. “High energy. He brings guys together. Trying to make the right play. Obviously, it’s going to take some time for him to get back in full rhythm with conditioning and everything else, but I liked his energy, his passion for the game, and what he’s talking to these guys about doing. Those were some good pieces (in his first game) back.”
Even with an increased energy level, leaving Cleveland with a victory will be no easy task. The Cavs boast a top-three record in the Eastern Conference at 14-8 and hold the league’s second-best defensive rating at 107.5.
While Cleveland’s calling card has come at the defensive end of the floor, their offense isn’t far behind. The Cavs have a top-10 offense (114.3) and are extremely efficient from beyond the arc, knocking down 38.5 percent of their 3-point tries, third-best in the association.
Leading that charge are the two members of their explosive backcourt. Guard Donovan Mitchell, acquired by Cleveland from Utah this offseason as part of a massive trade, is a top-10 scorer, firing off a whopping 28.4 points per game. Floor general Darius Garland, meanwhile, does a good job of distributing the basketball and setting the offensive tone, dishing out 8.1 assists per contest – the seventh-best mark in the NBA – while still offering up a scoring punch of his own by pouring in 22.8 points per game.
“We’re going to have to slow them down, obviously,” said Magic guard Cole Anthony, who made his return from a 16-game absence against the Hawks on Wednesday. “They’re both very skilled shooters, very skilled scorers, so we’re going to have to do a really good job of containing them and trying to make other dudes hurt us.”
IN AND OUT: Magic center Mo Bamba (back spasms) is questionable for this matchup, while Wendell Carter Jr. (right plantar fascia; strain), Gary Harris (right hamstring strain), Jonathan Isaac (left knee injury recovery), Chuma Okeke (left knee soreness), and Jalen Suggs (right ankle soreness) are out.
For Cleveland, Lamar Stevens (illness) is probable, Kevin Love (right thumb fracture) is doubtful, and Jarrett Allen (low back contusion), Ricky Rubio (left knee; ACL surgery), and Dylan Windler (right ankle sprain) are out.
KEY STATS: Magic rookie Paolo Banchero continues to remain in elite company. The 6-foot-10, 255-pound forward is just the fifth NBA player since 1950 to have 300-plus points, 100-plus rebounds, and 50-plus assists in his first 15 career games, joining Bernard King (1977-78), Sidney Wicks (71-72), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (69-70) and Oscar Robertson (60-61).
QUOTE TO NOTE: “Really comfortable. Obviously, we’re both really young players, so we’re learning the game as we go. I think so many in-game reps is really valuable for both of us. I think we’re still going to figure out even more how we can play together. But it’s really easy to play with a player like that, that just wants to win and make the right play and sees a lot of things even for his age.” – Franz Wagner on his chemistry with Banchero
HOW TO WATCH: Watch the game on Bally Sports Florida or tune in on radio via FM 96.9 The Game.