Cavaliers-Magic: Is Cleveland Struggling, or Is Orlando Thriving?
Last night the Orlando Magic, on their home court, beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 99-89 to take a two-to-one series edge. Orlando will play on their home court yet again on Tuesday and will look to take a commanding three-to-one series lead.
What has happened to the Cavaliers? They seemed nearly unbeatable during the regular season, and now they are being beaten by the three seed in the Eastern Conference.
The factor that proves Cleveland vulnerable is Orlando's balanced attack, and Cleveland's lack of one.
In Game Three, Cleveland had a total of eight bench points. Orlando's Mickael Pietrus had 16 points by himself, and the Magic bench combined had 20 points.
The Cavalier starters, with the exception of LeBron James, combined for 40 points. James had 41 points by himself.
The Magic starters, with the exception of their star, Dwight Howard, combined for 55 points. Howard had 24 points in nearly just 28 minutes.
That, along with the superb defensive play of the Magic, seems to be the biggest problem for the Cavaliers.
The Cleveland Cavaliers signed Mo Williams for a reason: to support LeBron James. Williams has accomplished that through much of the regular season and first two rounds of the playoffs.
Williams has produced games of 19, 17, and 15 points, respectively, through the first three games of the Eastern Conference Finals. However, that seems to not be enough.
Next to James' series average of 41.7 points per game, 43 percent of the Cavaliers' points in the series, Williams is the second leading scorer, averaging just 17 points per game.
However, is this two-to-one series hole Cleveland's fault, or is Orlando just a better overall team?
Support and balance are things that the Magic are loaded with. Pietrus has been a pleasant surprise for Orlando, averaging 12 points per game along with shadowing James.
"He's defending, spreading the floor for us on offense," Rashard Lewis said. "He got some big rebounds, made some big free throws, but mostly he played great defense."
Courtney Lee, Rafer Alston, and backup center Marcin Gortat have also produced greatly.
With Hedo Turkoglu only having one field goal in Game Three and Howard only playing nearly 28 minutes, the Magic were still able to win by 10 with the help of the Magic supporting cast.
The Magic have gained a swagger through beating the Boston Celtics and taking a two-to-one Eastern Conference Finals series lead, and the Magic think that they are that good.
"We can beat anybody if we run and play defense," Howard stated after the team's win over on Sunday night.
Defense was undoubtedly something that they showed in Game Three.
Orlando was able to hold Cleveland to 37.2 percent from the field in Game Three. James is also being frustrated. Even though he did have 41 points, he took 28 attempts and had to shoot 24 free throws.
Led by the Defensive Player of the Year, the Magic are 8-0 in the playoffs when it holds opponents to under 90 points.
Orlando also allows only 103.6 points per 100 possessions, which leads the category.
The Magic, again led by Howard, got to the line 51 times on Sunday night. The Defensive Player of the Year went 14-for-19 himself.
"I didn't think about it too much. I just tried to shoot," Howard said. "I heard a song playing at halftime. I just kept thinking about dancing. If my free throws are going in, I might have to keep up that routine."
Another factor that plays against the Cavaliers are the matchups that Orlando brings. With Rashard Lewis, at 6'10", at power forward and Hedo Turkoglu, at 6'10", playing small forward. Few teams, if any, in the NBA can match that combination of size, speed, and athleticism the Magic bring.
"They create a lot of matchup problems," MVP LeBron James said. "The way Rashard spaces the floor, our bigs are not used to it."
If Orlando, which would have been up 3-0 in this series if it were not for James' miracle three-pointer, can keep this momentum and play smart, defensive basketball, they will, without a doubt, be crowned Eastern Conference champions.
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