Orlando Magic vs. Cleveland Cavaliers: Game Preview

Khem Birch
by Dan Savage

ORLANDO -- After a dominant win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday, the Orlando Magic will attempt to put forth a repeat performance when the two teams meet again on Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET at Amway Center.

The Magic (5-2) broke out of a slight shooting slump in the prior affair, connecting on 44 percent (15-of-34) of their 3-pointers in that 103-83 home victory over the Cavs (4-3).

Aaron Gordon matched a career high by knocking down six of them as the immensely athletic forward was impactful on both ends of the floor on his way to a stellar 24-point, 11-rebound evening.

“He’s really just using his energy and effort to see what the game gives him and just takes what the game gives him,” point guard Markelle Fultz explained. “He’s so talented to be able to crash the glass and get rebounds, push it on the break, and be able to make the right pass – he’s a terrific passer too – any time you have a guy like that, it makes it easier for the point guard and everybody else on the floor.”

The 6-foot-9 University of Arizona alum possesses one of the most determined work ethics in the league and has put tremendous effort into improving his consistency from distance. He's hoping that translates to team success.

“It just helps the whole team,” said Gordon of how the team benefits when his shot is falling. “Driving spaces open up, people miss their help, and it just gives our offense another threat. So, I’m going to continue to keep working and continue to keep making shots.”

Along with keeping up their torrid shooting pace, the Magic hope to carry over a few other elements from their prior victory over the Cavs. Orlando outrebounded Cleveland, 54-36, and put the clamps on them defensively in a second half where the Magic outscored the Cavs by 18 points.

“If our defense and rebounding could carry over that would be huge,” Nikola Vucevic explained. “They’re great at crashing the glass, so those two things will be very important for us.”

INJURY UPDATE: The injury bug bit Orlando once again on Monday as Michael Carter-Williams, who started the last two games, had to leave the contest with a foot injury. An MRI later revealed that MCW suffered a mild bone bruise and a sprained ligament in his left foot.

He will certainly miss the Magic’s matchup with the Cavs and his return to play will depend on how he responds to treatment.

Al-Farouq Aminu (right knee rehabilitation), Chuma Okeke (left knee bone bruise) and Jonathan Isaac (left knee rehabilitation) are all out as well.

On the positive front, Magic Head Coach Steve Clifford says Evan Fournier – who is listed as questionable with back spasms – continues to make progress.

James Ennis III has been removed from the team’s injury report and Mo Bamba saw his first action on Monday, notching four minutes of play as he continues to build up his conditioning level.

“I’m hungry,” Bamba said. “I’m ready to go. I want more. I know that the opportunities are going to present itself slowly, but I’m hungry.”

For the Cavaliers, Kevin Love (calf strain), Dante Exum (calf strain), Matthew Dellavedova (concussion), Darius Garland (shoulder strain), Kevin Porter Jr. (personal), and Dylan Windler (hand fracture) are all listed as out.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “I can tell you this, I don’t have to be in the game to know how (well) he screens. When we were in practice, I felt a lot of screens by him. We almost got into a few fights (laughter). Khem is a really good screener. We do recognize that. That’s one thing that coach talks about. Being on the floor and having him on the team, you know how valuable he is when he screens somebody because you realize how open you are after you come off the screen. He’s really good at that. That’s one of the things we pride ourselves on and we’re trying to get everybody to do.” Fultz on Birch, whose 5.1 screen assists per game rank first in the NBA among those who play under 20 minutes per contest.

RIVALS REPORT: The Cavaliers tenacious defense did cause the Magic problems in the first half of their contest on Monday.

After turning the ball over just five times in his prior three games, Fultz coughed it up five times against Cleveland prior to halftime.

The Cavs, who possess the league’s second-best defensive rating (102.8), rank first in the NBA in steals (11.1), first in points off turnovers (23.6), and first in limiting opponents second chance points (9.9) per game.

“We have to lock into our turnovers because they’re very good at being in the passing lanes and forcing turnovers,” said Fultz. “Starting with me, being the point guard, that’s one of the (things) I would like to change from (last game).”

Cleveland will likely continue to attack the rack and cause problems in the paint, an area which it excels. The Cavs are first in the NBA in points in the paint, scoring 54.6 points per game.

“We’re going to expect a great response from them because they’ve been playing much better this season,” Vucevic said. “They’re going to come out ready.”

Collin Sexton will certainly be a focal point for Orlando’s defense. The third-year floor general is averaging career bests in points (25.7), field goal percentage (55.1), three-point percentage (54.2), assists (3.4), and steals (1.4).

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