The NBA season is here… finally. With that in mind, it is time to flip through the book on the 2011-12 season and to take a look at what the season might have in store — especially when it comes to the Magic. Be sure to look out for more of these team capsules and to check out all the blogs taking part in this year’s NBA Blog Preview (don’t worry, I will be linking to all of them in the next few weeks … months … this preview IS never-ending, afterall).
Last Year: 19-63
Last Year vs. Magic: Lost 111-100 in Orlando; Lost 110-95 in Cleveland; Lost 103-87 in Orlando; Lost 97-86 in Cleveland
This Year vs. Magic: Feb. 3 in Orlando; March 23 in Orlando; April 15 in Cleveland
Magic Connection: Anthony Parker (Player, 1999-2000), Assistant Coach Paul Pressey (Assistant Coach, 2000-04)
The Previews: Andrew/Waiting For Next Year
The Cavaliers are going to end up serving as our example, our model. The Big Bad Wolf blew the house down and left the Cavaliers with a straw house to clean up and build back together. What looked as sound as a brick house was gone in an instant when LeBron James left.
The first post-LeBron season was an absolute disaster. An NBA-record long losing streak on a roster that was previously the supporting cast to an Eastern Conference finalist was now the worst team in the league. They were hapless, frustrated and with no direction. Mo Williams was not the second or first option LeBron or the Cavs wanted. Anderson Varejao was injured and lost for the year early on. Antawn Jamison also had the worst year of his career.
This team far underperformed their talent level. Some believed this team had the talent to make the Playoffs. But that never materialized. It was cleared James was more than just one player for this team.
It was time to rebuild the foundation to the Cavaliers.
Cleveland got lucky in some ways. The team won the top pick in the Draft (in a relatively weak class, but still the number one pick) and earned the fourth overall pick as well. Of course, that number one pick came because of a shrewd trade to acquire the often troubled Baron Davis for Mo Williams. The Cavaliers eventually amnestied Davis. But they also got Kyrie Irving in that deal as it was the Clippers’ pick that the ping pong balls selected.
Irving is not the breakout star that Derrick Rose or Blake Griffin or Dwight Howard were as number one picks. But it is also pretty clear that he is a pretty strong player and perhaps the best rookie in his class. Irving has come out of the gate with complete reign over his offense, averaging 17.0 points per game and 5.1 assists per game. His 38.4 percent assist rate and 21.3 PER do not symbolize the trials of a rookie point guard.
And these are certainly not the 2010-11 Cavaliers either.
Cleveland has been one of the nicest surprises of the season to this point. At 5-6, the Cavaliers seem far ahead of where anyone believed they could be with a young roster centered on Irving and fourth overall pick Tristan Thompson’s development. But this is also a team with some veteran grit. Antawn Jamison is still around and so is sparkplug Anderson Varejao. So too are some solid role players like Anthony Parker, Omri Casspi and Ramon Sessions.
Will this team be able to keep its pace and finish at .500? That does nto seem likely. There does not seem to be enough scoring or experience for the trials that will surely come later in the season. Cleveland is not going to be a place you can just roll into and expect a victory. One thing Byron Scott teams have always done is play with a lot of energy and a fast pace.
Irving will certainly help do that. He has impressed in the early going for his team with his speed and his command of the offense. That rookie wall will likely come quicker than in most years. And, of course, this is a team still more than a few pieces away from truly contending again. They are no longer pushovers though. That is a decently big step forward for the Cavaliers after being so far at the bottom last year.
How the Cavaliers Will Beat the Magic: Irving is the catalyst for the Cavaliers right now as their leading scorer. His play will dictate how Cleveland plays on most nights. Even as a rookie though, I would suspect he has some speed and size advantage over Jameer Nelson. That should make up for some of Nelson’s basketball savvy. Not all of it of course. The real problem with matching up with Cleveland is trying to find a way to stop the steady diet of pick and rolls I am sure we will see from the team. The Magic have struggled keeping even mediocre point guards from turning the corner on them and gettinginto the paint, wreaking havoc with Orlando’s interior defense. The big key is stopping that initial penetration. That makes it incumbent upon Tristan Thompson and the Cavaliers’ big men to roll hard to the basket and make that elbow jumper. It won’t be easy. Irving has never seen or dealt with Dwight Howard.
How the Magic Will Beat the Cavaliers: Dwight Howard was a big part of all four wins over the Cavaliers last year. Granted that was without Varejao in the middle. But even with him flopping and flailing all about, how much resistance could the Cavaliers put on Howard? Not much. It may end up being a hack show like the Warriors game was. Attacking the paint, like in most Magic games, is key to set up the shooters on the perimeter and get those 3-pointers that make the Magic near unbeatable. Ball movement, aggressive dribble penetration and Dwight Howard post ups should help Orlando easily secure wins against Cleveland again this year.