Orlando knew they had a tough task on Wednesday night as the Cleveland Cavaliers came to town. In a rematch of last season's Eastern Conference Finals, the tables turned and the Cavs eased into a 102-93 victory.
The Magic have been struggling of late, mostly due to injuries and suspension. PF Rashard Lewis is finishing up his 10 game suspension and will return next week. Ryan Anderson, who has filled in impressively for Lewis, will return from an ankle injury next week as well.
Missing players, however, is no excuse for a poor showing at home. Poor defensive play seems to be a bigger problem, one not solved by the return of Lewis or Anderson.
Jameer Nelson has been allowing opposing point guards to come up big against him. These overperforming guards aren't Chris Paul and Steve Nash-caliber guys either, but rather players like Raymond Felton and Russell Westbrook. Cleveland PG Mo Williams went off for 28 points and six assists.
Dwight Howard has not been as dominant as usual, causing him to complain about unfair officiating. He can't can't continue to blame referees for performances like his 11 points and seven rebounds against the Cavs.
Orlando simply had no answer for LeBron James as he scorched the Magic for a game high 38 points and eight rebounds. Vince Carter put up 29 points, but seemed to vanish at the other end of the floor.
Mickael Pietrus, after missing some time with an illness, played a very disappointing game with only an assist and a rebound to go with zero points. Pietrus cannot continue to mail in games like this, especially against playoff teams like Cleveland.
For all of his talk leading up to the game, Shaquille O'Neal was a bit less than impressive with 10 points and four rebounds in 20 minutes. Shaq did chip in with a couple of blocked shots and was enough of a presence to sway the game to the Cavs favor though.
The Orlando have a lot of work to do if they plan on returning to the NBA Finals this season. As deep as the team is, they have proven that they will rely heavily on the presence of key starters.
A better test of the state of the Magic will transpire next Friday, as a (hopefully) healthy Orlando team faces the Boston Celtics at the Garden. With Rashard Lewis and Ryan Anderson back in action, the Magic need to make a statement in Boston.
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