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2023-24 Eastern Conference First Round Preview: Orlando Magic vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

Magic Cavaliers
The Cavaliers and Magic will tip off the first round of the 2023-24 postseason Saturday afternoon! (Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports)

2023-24 Eastern Conference First Round Preview: Orlando Magic vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

The No. 5 seed Orlando Magic, the youngest team in the playoffs, will open the first round of the 2023-24 NBA Postseason against the No. 4 Cleveland Cavaliers, who are looking to shake last year’s ugly taste out of their mouth! Who has the advantage?! Let’s preview it!

What to know about the Orlando Magic:

Starters:

Key Reserves:

In the first year of the Paolo Banchero era, Orlando improved from 22 wins to 34 wins. The Magic made another sizable leap this season, leaping from 34 wins to 47 wins–securing its first postseason bid since 2019-20. Head coach Jamahl Mosley signed a well-deserved multi-year extension with the organization in mid-March, helping improve its defense from a bottom-five unit to top-3 unit in three seasons.

Banchero and Franz Wagner are the head of the snake, but the Magic got very good production from Jalen Suggs, who had a breakout third season. He averaged 12.6 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.4 steals, shooting 47.1 percent from the floor and 39.7 percent from 3-point range after featuring 38.7/27.1/75.2 shooting splits over his first two seasons. Overall, Orlando still has a lackluster offense without much spacing, but it had enough functional size and was sturdy enough defensively to keep itself in games.

What to know about the Cleveland Cavaliers:

Starters:

Key Reserves:

Last postseason, the Cavaliers got waxed out of the first round by the New York Knicks in five games, lacking the requisite shooting and rebounding to keep par in a very slow, masochistic brand of hoops. Both issues are still pertinent, especially since two of their best 3-point shooters–Sam Merrill and Dean Wade–may not even crack the postseason rotation.

Max Strus and Georges Niang, who signed with Cleveland in the offseason to help the former, had good shooting seasons–even though the latter regressed by nearly over two percentage points from distance. Both Garland and Mitchell missed time during the season due to injury, as did Evan Mobley. The Cavaliers, who were once a top-flight defense without Mobley (a very good, albeit skinny, defender) and Garland, regressed post All-Star break defensively. They were one of seven teams leaguewide–plus the only one in the playoffs–to be a bottom-11 team both offensively and defensively after the All-Star break and have been a bottom-seven defense since the All-Star break.

Not an optimal formula for success, eh?

Question(s)?

Can Orlando conjure up enough shooting to keep pace?

The Cavaliers might have regressed defensively, but the Magic were one of the worst 3-point shooting teams in the NBA

They shot the third-fewest 3-pointers per 100 possessions (32.0) and featured the seventh-worst percentage (35.2), leading the NBA in shot frequency around the rim (38.5), per Cleaning The Glass. Cleveland did a good job running teams off the 3-point line and placed in the top-6 in field goal percentage allowed at the rim and in the mid-range. The Magic may have more collective size, but will need to knock down shots against the Mitchell, Garland-led Cavaliers if it wants to steal this series.

Rebounding … does Cleveland finally have it?

Last season, the Cavaliers and Knicks ranked No. 20 and 2 in rebounding percentage, respectively; this season, the Cavaliers and Magic rank No. 15 and 4 in that category, respectively. The gap may be smaller–in 2022-23, it was a difference of 2.5 percentage points compared to 1.5 this year–but Cleveland can’t let what happened last year happen again. No rebounds, no rings, as a wise man once said!

How much will the basketball gods affect this series?

The Cavaliers purposely threw the second half of their regular-season finale against Charlotte to get Orlando. That’s bulletin board material if I’ve ever seen it. Don’t mess with the basketball gods–it doesn’t always end well!

Prediction: Cavaliers in 6

***

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