Cavs Down Magic Behind Clutch Play of LeBron James


After an awful start, the Magic battled back and went back and forth with the Cavaliers all night, but the Magic fell apart down the stretch, the Cavaliers got hot from the perimeter and LeBron James took the game over giving them a 115-106 victory. LeBron James shot the ball poorly for three quarters but came alive down the stretch and finished with 32 points. Despite James’ poor shooting for most of the game, he still dished out 13 assists and grabbed eight rebounds. Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis each had 19 points for the Magic but both played limited minutes due to foul trouble.

Orlando started the game by committing three fouls, one offensive, missing two shots and committing two turnovers in the first two minutes before getting on the board. Rashard Lewis knocked down a couple of three-pointers and took a 12-7 lead, but then LeBron James and J.J. Hickson (!) took over. Cleveland went on a 21-4 run. Hickson had 10 points during the run while James had had six points and three assists. Shaquille O’Neal, Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis picked up two fouls in the quarter. Lewis led the Magic with eight points in the quarter. Magic Head Coach Stan Van Gundy blamed Orlando’s poor play on poor shot selection (7-of-17 from the field), turnovers (six) and not getting back on defense (Cleveland had seven fast break points, went 12-of-22 from the field and shot 11-of-14 from the free throw line). LeBron James shot 10 free throws in the first quarter (made eight) and finished with 15 points, five assists and two rebounds. J.J. Hickson had 13 points in the quarter and the Cavaliers had a 37-23 lead.

The Magic got hot from downtown, shooting 6-of-12 in the quarter. Orlando limited their turnovers, committing just two in the second quarter and shot 14-of-23 in the quarter. Cleveland shot even better in the second period, shooting 12-of-19 from the field but were still outscored 40-29 in the quarter and held a 66-63 halftime lead. It looked like the Cavaliers would have trouble finding offense in the second period since LeBron James shot 0-of-3 in the quarter and only attempted two free throws, but Anderson Varejao went off, scoring 14 points in the quarter. In the first half, two of Cleveland’s more unlikely scorers, Varejao and Hickson combined for 32 points. Rashard Lewis, Dwight Howard, and Matt Barnes each picked up their third foul and had to leave the game, playing just a combined 25 minutes in the first half. Shaquille O’Neal also picked up his third foul but Cavs Head Coach Mike Brown opted to leave him in the game. With Dwight Howard only on the floor for a limited time, Cleveland was able to score 38 points in the paint. Jason Williams scored all 10 of points in the second quarter and led all Magic players in scoring. Both Jameer Nelson and Dwight Howard had nine.

The Magic got off to a very good start in the third period. They got into the paint and got some excellent looks at the basket. They started the quarter on a 10-2 run and built a 79-72 lead on a Rashard Lewis jumper with 5:00 minutes to go in the quarter. Dwight Howard picked up his fourth foul with 6:37 to play and exited for the remainder of the quarter. During that same span, the Magic really turned up the defensive effort, but then, the Magic started to take some bad shots and did a very poor job guarding the perimeter. The Cavs went on a 14-4 run to take an 87-83 lead in the final quarter. The Magic shot 9-of-19 in the period, only attempted one three-pointer (and missed) and only shot three free throws. The Cavs went just 8-of-19 from the field but made three three-pointers.

Cleveland immediately pushed their lead to seven in the fourth quarter, but the Magic fought back. After trailing 92-85, the Magic went on an 11-2 run capped by a running hook shot by Dwight Howard with 7:31 to play. Howard picked up his fifth foul with 8:56 to play but Van Gundy made the decision to keep Howard in the game. The Magic had some chances to extend their lead, but Mickael Pietrus took an ill-advised three-pointer and Jameer Nelson threw a poor pass on a Magic fast break. After Cleveland tied it at 96, Nelson missed an easy layup (it was the second time in the game he did that) and Dwight Howard stepped out of bounds and turned the ball over (even though he was bumped out by O’Neal). The Magic took more ill-advised shots, gave up two easy scores to O’Neal and LeBron and then allowed Delonte West to hit a three-pointer after a missed three by Nelson to push their lead to 103-96. James hit a long jumper to make it an 11-0 run give Cleveland a nine-point lead. LeBron James took over down the stretch and sealed the victory for Cleveland. Before Mickael Pietrus scored the last five points of the game, Cleveland was on a 21-5 run.


Orlando’s backcourt was absolutely awful on Thursday night. Jameer Nelson scored 13 points on 4-of-14 shooting, was 1-of-5 from beyond the arc and turned the ball over four times. Nelson also had some really terrible plays down the stretch – he missed a layup, took two low quality shots and made a terrible pass when Orlando had a three-on-one fast break with the game tied at 96. Nelson did a good job of getting to the basket at times but he struggled to finish and made some poor decisions. Nelson’s struggles at the rim are probably related to this being Orlando’s fourth game in five days. Jameer has dealt with a lot of injuries and four games in five nights is probably not something he is equipped to handle right now. The All-Star break should do him a lot of good.

Vince Carter’s January struggles have been noted as has his early February success but on Thursday, Carter looked more like January Vince. He scored 14 points on 5-of-16 shooting, had just two assists and turned the ball over three times.

Jason Williams and J.J. Redick provided a nice spark during Orlando’s second quarter run. For the game, they combined to score 18 points on a perfect 7-of-7 shooting, but had some defensive lapses and only logged a total of 33 minutes between them.

Dwight Howard wound up with decent numbers – 19 points and 11 rebounds and had good shooting numbers – 6-of-9 from the field and 7-of-10 from the free throw line but picked up some cheap fouls and could never really get into a rhythm. Howard played just 31 minutes in the game due to foul trouble. Howard tried to laugh off some ticky-tack foul calls but verbally lashed out on an official after they said he stepped on the line late in the game. Howard did step on the line, but it appeared that he was bumped out by O’Neal. It was good to see Howard calm down somewhat and not pick up a technical in an obviously frustrating game and it was good to see him hit his free throws. It was also good to see him play the last 8:54 with five fouls and not pick up another one – have to love Van Gundy putting his trust in him like that – but it wasn’t good to see Howard virtually disappear for the final seven-and-a-half minutes. Howard barely even touched the ball down the stretch and didn’t score after the 7:31 mark. That just can’t happen if the Magic expect to win close games against elite level teams.

One other positive that came out of this game – Rashard Lewis is still a matchup problem for Cleveland. The problem for Orlando was that they could not keep Lewis on the court. Lewis did not play exceptionally well (19 points, 6-of-14 from the field, 3-of-9 from downtown), but he, much like Howard, got into foul trouble and had trouble really finding his rhythm. Lewis still gave Cleveland’s bigger players trouble from the outside and when they tried to put a more athletic player on him, Lewis took them inside. Lewis has been very good in late game situations this season and the Magic need to look for him more down the stretch.

Orlando also still has not solved their turnover problem. They had 13 more turnovers that allowed the Cavaliers to get out in transition and score 25 points off of those turnovers.

Orlando had trouble defending the paint in the first half (mainly due to Howard’s foul trouble) and J.J. Hickson and Anderson Varejao went off, each scoring 16 points in the half. Orlando often struggled to get back and defend and in the second half when they finally did, Cleveland’s supporting cast did something they could not do in the Eastern Conference Finals last season – they hit big shots. Cleveland shot 7-of-15 from beyond the arc in the second half and used the three-pointer to take the lead and build momentum, much like the Magic did earlier in the game.

But Cleveland deserves more credit than that. Their entire team shot the ball very well (eFG% of 57.7% and they took very good care of the ball (seven turnovers). The Cavs also outrebounded the Magic 40-36 and grabbed 11 offensive rebounds.

LeBron James was just phenomenal. For a large part of the game, he was having a bad shooting night. So what did he do? He got himself to the foul line 12 times and grabbed eight rebounds, but best of all, he got his teammates involved. His supporting cast was able to step up and make big shots because LeBron made plays to get them incredible looks at the basket. He finished with 13 assists in the game. James also completely took over the game late. With the Cavaliers trailing by two with 6:16 to go, James scored 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting (he was 5-of-15 prior to that), grabbed two key rebounds and had three assists. James wound up finishing with 32 points on the night.

Game Notes:

  • After they each had a huge first half, Hickson and Varejao combined to score four points in the second half.
  • Shaquille O’Neal went off on Dwight Howard to reporters after the game but the big man got in foul trouble trying to defend Howard and finished with just 10 points and six rebounds. The Cavaliers were -2 with Shaq on the floor.
  • Each team had five players in double figures.
  • Delonte West made his return to Cleveland and played well – he scored eight points, had six assists and grabbed three rebounds.

Next Up: The Magic get some much needed rest before taking on the Detroit Pistons at home on Wednesday, February 17th.

If you need your Magic fix, Dwight Howard will be a commentator for the rookie game alongside Miami Heat Guard Dwayne Wade on Friday night at 9:00 pm EST on TNT. Magic Assistant Patrick Ewing will be coaching in that game. Howard will also be starting in the 59th NBA All-Star game at 8:00 pm EST on Sunday night on TNT. Stan Van Gundy will be his coach.

Final Thought: The Magic gave a good effort considering it was their fourth game in five days but LeBron James was just too much.

(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.)