Orlando Magic vs. Cleveland Cavaliers: Game Preview

Nikola Vucevic
by Dan Savage

ORLANDO -- After jumping out to a 4-0 start, the Orlando Magic have dropped two straight contests and have had to deal with mounting injuries to key pieces of their rotation.

The Magic (4-2) will look to right the ship on Monday at 7 p.m. ET when they host the Cleveland Cavaliers (4-2) for the first matchup of two straight meetings between the squads at Amway Center.

Over the last two games, Orlando has had to play stretches without Terrence Ross, who missed Thursday’s contest against the Sixers, and Evan Fournier, who sat out Saturday’s matchup with the Thunder due to back spasm, and as a result its shot making has suffered.

Despite the Magic’s offensive sets generating open looks, the team was unable to knock down their 3-pointers, shooting just 26.3 percent from distance and 37 percent from the field.

Until Orlando gets back to full strength, it’s imperative that it generates looks by attacking the rack and through its drive-and-kick game. Fortunately, that’s an area where the Magic have excelled this season.

Orlando is averaging 23.5 shots on drives, with Markelle Fultz averaging 7.2 of them, ninth most in the league. However, with the last two games hindering their conversion rate on those drives, the Magic in total have made only 46.1 percent of these attempts, which ranks towards the middle of the NBA.

“Playing inside-out,” said Magic Head Coach Steve Clifford. “The ball didn’t hit the paint (on Saturday). There were one hundred and eight possessions, the ball hit the paint fifty-three times, didn’t hit it fifty-five times, and when that’s the ratio, you’re not going to get good offense. That’s what we spent the majority of time on (in practice on Sunday).”

KEY STAT: One of the foundations of any Clifford-led squad is taking care of the basketball. So, it should be of no surprise that the Magic rank first in the NBA in fewest turnovers committed at just 11.7 per game. That metric will be put to the test over the next two games as the Cavaliers lead the league in deflections per game (20.2), according to NBA advanced stats.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “It’s easier said than done to think about the next shot when you’re so passionate about your craft, how confident you are when you’re putting in that work. It’s been ugly as far as the lid hasn’t come off the basket yet. But, I’m confident, the team is confident, coach is confident in me to be able to step in there and knock down some shots (and) provide the spacing that allows our guys to get in the paint and (Nikola Vucevic) to facilitate inside.” – Gary Clark on starting the season 0-for-5 from 3-point range. The 6-foot-6 forward shot 35 percent from distance for the Magic last season.

INJURY UPDATE: Fournier and James Ennis III (strained right hamstring/sore right calf) are both making progress in their recoveries, but will not play in tonight's contest. Ennis has participated in two-on-two drills during practices, but still has to get his conditioning level up to game shape after missing all of the team’s preseason as well as their regular season action thus far.

“I feel a hundred percent now,” Ennis said. “The staff did a really good job on not really rushing things back and making sure I was doing the right things. Just being patient with the process.”

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

RIVALS REPORT: The Cavaliers hot start to the season can be attributed to a few key areas.

First, their backcourt of Colin Sexton and Darius Garland is developing into one of the most potent one-two punches in the NBA. Sexton is averaging 26 points per game while shooting a scorching 55.6 percent from the field and 55 percent from 3-point range. Garland, meanwhile, is posting 17.2 points and 6.3 assists per contest.

“It will be a tale of keeping their guards out of the paint, because their guards are really hungry to score,” Clark said. “It’s going to be interesting just to be able to contain those guards and keeping their big guys off the glass. It’s going to take literally all five guys that are on the court at each moment and knowing the schemes and exactly what we’re supposed to do defensively to stop them when they run their sets and then finish the play with a defensive rebound.”

Defensively, Cleveland has been equally impressive. Along with leading the association in deflections, the Cavs have the NBA’s second-best defensive rating (101.8) and are first in the league in steals per game (11.0).

“It’s going to start with not turning the ball over,” Clifford said. “They’re first in the NBA in points off turnovers. Sexton, (Dante) Exum, Garland, those guys, (Andre) Drummond anchoring the defense, (and) Larry Nance Jr. is a terrific defender, very versatile, so it’s going to start with that.”


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