2024 Playoffs: East First Round | Cavaliers (4) vs. Magic (5)

NBA Playoffs: What to expect in Cavaliers-Magic series

First-round playoff opponents Cleveland and Orlando each boast promising individual talent and startlingly similar strengths.

Star guard Donovan Mitchell is looking to lead the Cavs to their first playoff series win since 2018.

Download the NBA App

Cleveland held a healthy lead heading into the fourth quarter of Game No. 82 vs. Charlotte, then got outscored 32-14 as coach J.B. Bickerstaff cleared his bench. It was seen as gamesmanship to set up this series with Orlando, so we’ll see if the Magic take that personally or not.  

The teams split their season series 2-2, each winning once on the other’s court. They have not faced each other since Feb. 22. The smallest margin of victory in the four games was seven points.

Series schedule 

Here’s how to watch the Cavaliers vs. Magic series: 

All times Eastern Standard Time 

  • Game 1: Magic vs. Cavaliers; Saturday, April 20 (1 p.m., ESPN)
  • Game 2: Magic vs. Cavaliers; Monday, April 22 (7 p.m., NBA TV)
  • Game 3: Cavaliers vs. Magic; Thursday, April 25 (7 p.m., NBA TV)
  • Game 4: Cavaliers vs. Magic; Saturday, April 27 (1 p.m., TNT)
  • Game 5: Magic vs. Cavaliers; Tuesday, April 30 (TBD, TBD)*
  • Game 6: Cavaliers vs. Magic; Friday, May 3 (TBD, TBD)*
  • Game 7: Magic vs. Cavaliers; Sunday, May 5 (TBD, TBD)* 

* = If necessary 

Top storyline 

Similarities: size and defense. These teams have a lot in common besides their proximity in the East standings, their split season series and their playoff hunger. They both ranked in the NBA’s top 10 defensively and in the lower half offensively. And with big bodies all around — Jarrett Allen, Evan Mobley, Jonathan Isaac, Paolo Banchero — the scoring might drop significantly when postseason pace also factors in.  

Orlando ranked behind only Minnesota and Boston defensively and flexed that strength to a 21-2 record when holding opponents under 100 points. Cleveland? It didn’t lose at all, going 14-0 when holding the other guys under 100. The flip side was pretty even too: the Magic were 2-12 when they couldn’t crack 100, the Cavs 1-9.  

The Cavs fared better head-to-head, with a 5.6 net rating in the four meetings. One notable edge was on from the perimeter, where Cleveland outscored Orlando by nearly 15 points per game on 3-pointers. It also outshot the Magic by percentage, overall and from the arc while winning the battles on both boards.  

Keep your eyes on 

The Banchero-Mobley matchup. No one will go it alone in exclusive coverage, but Banchero and Mobley figure to see a lot of each other. The former was the No. 1 pick in 2022 and already has made a little history. Banchero became the youngest player (21 years, 154 days) in NBA history to lead his team in scoring, rebounding and assists in a season. He also led the Magic in minutes, shots, and free throws, and followed up his Kia Rookie of the Year debut season with an All-Star berth.  

Mobley, the No. 3 pick in 2021, earned a spot on the All-Defensive team last season but didn’t jump up again in Year 3. He played in only 50 games, undergoing knee surgery that cost him 22 games in December and January, then missing almost three weeks in March with an ankle sprain. Many of his stats plateaued, and Mobley’s limited season is a big reason why the Cavaliers flattened out too.   

Banchero’s diverse offensive game matched against Mobley’s defensive prowess should provide marquee minutes. The Orlando forward gives up an inch in height to the 6-foot-11 Mobley, but has notable strength and 35 pounds on him.  

1 more thing to watch for each team 

For Cavaliers: Health. Cleveland has weapons … if they can stay on the floor. Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland and Mobley all fell short of 60 appearances and they each missed one of the games against the Magic. Mitchell and Garland, however, averaged 27.3 and 26.7 points, respectively, in the series. The Cavs had more than 300 games missed to injury, but a week before Saturday’s opener and a typically leisurely schedule in the first round should benefit them.  

For Magic: Backcourt feistiness. Orlando doesn’t get a lot of its scoring from its backcourt. Jalen Suggs and reserve Cole Anthony are the only guards to average double digits and, against the Cavs, they put up about a third (combined 17.6) of what Mitchell and Garland posted. But their defense, bolstered by Gary Harris and coordinated with wing Franz Wagner and the front line, can be punishing. At 6-foot-5 and 205, Suggs plays like the former prep football star he was, with playoff physicality likely to work in his favor. 

1 key number to know 

9.2% – The Magic shot 58.7% (11th-best) in the paint, but had an effective field goal percentage of 49.5% (28th) on shots from outside the paint. That (9.2%) was the league’s biggest such differential. The Magic ranked in the bottom 10 offensively for the 11th straight season, with their lack of perimeter shooting being their biggest issue.

The Cavs took a step backward defensively this season (having ranked first on that end of the floor last season), but remained one of the best teams at defending the paint. They were one of three teams – the Celtics and Thunder were the others – that ranked in the top 10 in both opponent field goal percentage in the paint (55.1%, fifth) and the (lowest) percentage of their opponents’ shots that came in the paint (48%, ninth).

— John Schuhmann 

The pick 

Magic in seven. If it goes this long, Cleveland gets the final game at home. The Cavs have more spring experience than Orlando — they were in the Play-In two years ago and lost to New York in the first round last spring. But they’re not exactly peaking at the right time. Since these teams last met, the Cavaliers have gone 12-16. Orlando is 16-10 since that night, improving by 13 victories over last season to thrust Jamahl Mosley into Coach of the Year conversations. The Magic are in the playoffs for the first time since 2020 and haven’t won a series since 2010, but the guys playing well for them now know nothing of that.

* * *

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on X.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Warner Bros. Discovery.