Photo: AP/John Raoux
If you were waiting to see why Danny Ferry made the particular moves he did this offseason, tonight was your resounding and emphatic answer. Yes, the Orlando Magic were on a back-to-back, without their top two power forwards (All-Star Rashard Lewis and Ryan Anderson), and the Cavaliers were fresh off four days rest, but you cannot deny the fact that the Cavaliers went into Amway Arena tonight and beat a 6-2 Magic team, something that was all too difficult in last year's Eastern Conference Finals.
New faces in so many places: LeBron James, Mo Williams, and Dwight Howard were the only three starters in tonight's game that started in last summer's Eastern Conference Finals series. Rafer Alston, Courtney Lee, and Hedo Turkoglu have departed for other teams, Rashard Lewis is serving a suspension, and Anderson Varejao, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and Delonte West are now coming off of the bench. West missed tonight's game after reportedly missing the team's flight to Orlando, and Brian Windhorst revealed that Delonte has battled a fear of flying at times. Fortunately, the Cavaliers were fine without Delonte tonight, but he may return to action tomorrow night in Miami.
Superman vs. Superman: The battle of the men of steel lived up to the billing at the outset. Both teams entered the ball to their respective big men in the hopes of getting the other into foul trouble. The Cavaliers lucked out with a cheap foul on Dwight Howard that was followed up by a hard foul that sent Howard to the bench just over two minutes into the game. Both fouls were drawn by Shaq, and the big fella showed a calculated patience in attacking the game's best big man. O'Neal had just three first quarter points, but he did his job as Howard was forced to sit for nearly ten minutes. Dwight picked up his third foul while hip checking Mo Williams in the corner, but "The Master of Panic", Stan Van Gundy, chose to leave him out on the floor. That led to some questionable officiating, but Howard still failed to make a huge impact. O'Neal picked up his third foul on a questionable illegal screen call in the second quarter, then was forced to sit just three and a half minutes into the second half after a poor choice of fouling Howard directly underneath the bucket. The battle fizzled out in the second half as the Cavaliers stretched their lead, the Magic continued to chuck up outside shots, and O'Neal sat due to foul trouble, but the message was sent. Dwight Howard is going to have to work much harder against the Cavaliers this season, and the Cavaliers with O'Neal now have a fighting chance to break close to even in that battle, which is all they are looking for in the grand scheme of things. In 32 minutes, Howard managed just three shots, making them all while shooting 5-of-12 from the foul line. He finished with 11 points, 7 rebounds, and 1 block. Shaq was limited to 20 minutes, but battled for 10 points on 4-of-8 from the floor, adding 4 rebounds and 2 blocks.