The Orlando Magic will look to keep their recent stretch of good basketball up when they take on the Cleveland Caval..."/> The Orlando Magic will look to keep their recent stretch of good basketball up when they take on the Cleveland Caval..."/>

Orlando Magic @ Cleveland Cavaliers

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The Orlando Magic will look to keep their recent stretch of good basketball up when they take on the Cleveland Cavaliers in a rematch of last season’s Eastern Conference Finals on Thursday night. The Magic are in search of their fourth straight win, but they will have to do it against a Cleveland team that has won 12 games in a row.

The Magic are now 36-17 after defeating the Chicago Bulls Wednesday night and have the Eastern Conference’s second-best record but the Cavs have been the class of the east so far this season. A win over New Jersey on Tuesday gave Cleveland a record of 42-11, six games better than the Magic. The Cavaliers are 23-3 in Quicken Loans Arena and the Magic are 16-12 away from Amway Arena this season.

Thse two teams met earlier this season and the Cavs won 102-93, but the game wasn’t that close. Orlando used a big fourth quarter to make the score look respectable, but the Cavs dominated the game. Of course, the Magic were without both Rashard Lewis and Ryan Anderson.

Everyone knows what happened in their meeting prior to that – the Magic defeated the Cavs in game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals to advance to NBA Finals. Dwight Howard had 40 points and 14 rebounds in the victory.

Tip-off from Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland is scheduled for 8:00 pm EST and you can see the game nationally on TNT. As always, if you can’t watch the game, you can listen to it locally on WDBO AM 580 and in Spanish on WONQ AM 1030.

The Line: Cleveland – 6.5

Starters

Orlando Magic

Dwight Howard
Rashard Lewis
Matt Barnes
Vince Carter
Jameer Nelson

Cleveland Cavaliers

Shaquille O’Neal
J.J. Hickson
LeBron James
Anthony Parker
Daniel Gibson

Earlier this season, the Cavaliers got an easy win. Cleveland got off to a quick start led by the dominance of LeBron James and the hot-shooting of Mo Williams.

A few things should be different Thursday night that should help the Magic make it a much more competitive game:

  • Mo Williams, who had 28 points on 12-of-20 shooting, has missed 10 straight games with an injured shoulder and will not play.
  • Orlando’s “Stretch Fours,” Rashard Lewis and Ryan Anderson both missed the game. Rashard Lewis is an extremely tough matchup for the Cavs and continuously hit big shots against them in the playoffs last season.
  • Orlando is playing much better defense than they did earlier in the season and now rank second in defensive efficiency.
  • Dwight Howard is playing smarter basketball – he’s playing much offensively and adapting to the type of defender that is covering him.

Statistically, Cleveland has been the best team in the NBA. Not only do they have the best record in the NBA but they rank fourth in offensive efficiency and fifth in defensive efficiency.

Jameer Nelson has been an excellent playmaker lately and will have to keep that up on Thursday night. His fellow backcourt mate, Vince Carter, will also have to keep playing smart basketball and continue to attack the basket.

LeBron is going to get his. Orlando’s goal once again, will be to not let his supporting cast get theirs. It was an effective strategy in the postseason.

Luckily for the Magic, no starter played over 28 minutes in Orlando’s victory over the Bulls.

(Andrew Melnick is Howard the Dunk’s lead blogger and a contributor at NFL Mocks Subscribe to his RSS feed and add him on Twitter to follow him daily.)