Cavs/Magic Preview

It’s always funny to hear pundits say that one team can’t beat another in a seven-game series. In most cases, those teams can spring the upset, but that doesn’t mean that they will. Such is the case in the Eastern Conference Finals where the Orlando Magic will try to upend the Cleveland Cavaliers.

No team has been more impressive in the postseason than the Cavs. They swept both the Pistons and the Hawks, and seem destined for the Finals. They have the best player in the league in LeBron James, a sharpshooting sidekick in Mo Williams and a host of players willing to fill their respective roles. Simply stated, they look unstoppable right now.

Conversely, the Magic struggled at times in their seven-game series against the Celtics, though that might have more to do with Boston’s defense and championship pedigree than anything the Magic were doing wrong. This Cavs/Magic series would be a lot more interesting if Jameer Nelson were healthy, but Rafer Alston has been a decent stopgap at point guard, and Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis are proving to be nice complements for big man Dwight Howard. The Magic are built like the Rockets were in the Hakeem Olajuwon era in that they have a center that demands a double team and have surrounded him with a number of players who can make teams pay from the perimeter. The problem is that Howard isn’t nearly the passer or the free throw shooter that Olajuwon was, so he’s not a great option in crunch time. The Magic have a tendency to fall in love with the long ball and don’t have a guy who can get to the rim on a consistent basis. But if Orlando is knocking down their threes (as they were in Game 7 of the Boston series), they’re nearly unstoppable.

The biggest challenge in upsetting the Cavs is how to deal with LeBron. Can Turkoglu stay with him? No. Lewis? Probably not. Mickael Pietrus has the athleticism to bother LeBron, but he’s not known as a lockdown defender. Orlando actually won the season series, 2-1, but both wins were at home. LeBron averaged more than 30 points per game against the Magic, but Orlando did a pretty nice job of making him work for his points, holding him to 43% from the field. If that trend continues, and no one else steps up for the Cavs, the Magic have a real shot.

Unless Ben Wallace discovers the Fountain of Youth, Howard should have his way inside. He’ll have to earn many of his points from the free throw line because the Cavs have a number of bigs who will no doubt use their fouls to keep Howard from getting easy dunks. LeBron will probably draw Turkoglu, which is bad news for the former Most Improved Player. Lewis is really going to have to step up in this series, as he’ll likely draw Anderson Varejao (or possibly Zydrunas Ilgauskas) defensively. Other than Howard, that’s the only position where the Magic have a distinct advantage over the Cavs. It will be a good sign for the Magic if LeBron is forced to switch from Turkoglu to Lewis and back — that means that whoever he’s not guarding is having an impact offensively.

Some experts are picking the Cavs to sweep, but if the Magic play well, this series can definitely go the distance. Orlando was prone to spurts of poor play in the Boston series, but they won’t be able to get away with that against the Cavs. Keep an eye on Cleveland’s shooting percentage and the Magic’s long range accuracy. Those two stats are a good gauge of Orlando’s chances.

Cleveland fans shouldn’t underestimate how important this series is for the Cavs’ chances of re-signing LeBron next summer. If the Cavs flame out before the Finals, the LeBron to NY/NJ rumors are bound to heat up again.

Follow the Scores Report editors on Twitter @clevelandteams and @bullzeyedotcom.

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