4 things that went right (and wrong) for Orlando Magic vs. Cleveland Cavaliers this season

The Orlando Magic are preparing for a familiar foe in the Playoffs. Having played and split four games with the Cleveland Cavaliers this year, there were plenty of good and bad to take from it.
Orlando Magic v Cleveland Cavaliers
Orlando Magic v Cleveland Cavaliers / Lauren Leigh Bacho/GettyImages

The Orlando Magic are back in the playoffs for the first time since the 2020 Playoffs in the Bubble. They bypassed the Play-In Tournament completely thanks to Sunday's win over the Milwaukee Bucks, bringing some relief after a rocky final week.

Orlando finished the season as the 5-seed in Eastern Conference and are on a collision course with the Cleveland Cavaliers for a first-round matchup in the NBA playoffs. Game 1 tips off Saturday at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland, Ohio.

Orlando and Cleveland faced off four times in the regular season. They split the series 2-2 with the Cavaliers winning the first game in Cleveland in December, and Orlando winning the return game a week later in Orlando. The Cavaliers scored a victory at Kia Center in January before the Magic won on the road just after the All-Star Break.

Only one of the four games was played within 10 points. These two teams played tight in the aggregate, but none of their games went down to the wire in the regular season.

And neither team was fully healthy for any of the four games they faced off -- Donovan Mitchell missed the game just after the All-Star Break and Evan Mobley missed the Magic's win in Orlando while Wendell Carter missed the two games in December.

As the Magic's much-anticipated return to postseason play gears up, we take a look at a few things Orlando did and did not do well against the Cavs during the 2024 campaign.

Here are 4 things that went right and wrong for Orlando against Cleveland this season:

1) Right - Bench Points

The Orlando Magic’s bench has performed well all year and the four games against the Cleveland Cavaliers were no exception.

The Magic's bench averaged 45.0 points per game against the Cavaliers with their highest being 63 in a win during their final matchup of the season. Comparatively, Cleveland’s bench averaged about 30 points per game against Orlando.

Admittedly the bench/starting lineup for the Magic are still a question mark. Typically a team’s starting lineup will fluctuate in the playoffs based on matchups, hot streaks and injuries. For the Magic specifically, players like Garry Harris, Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz, among others, have flirted with starting spots and role-player roles all throughout the season.

The latter is a testament to how deep and balanced Orlando’s roster has been more than anything else. And for that reason, who comes off the bench likely does not matter.

Whether it is Wendall Carter/Jonathan Isaac at starting center or Mareklle Fultz/Anthony Black/Jalen Suggs running point at the opening tip, the players who come off the bench for Orlando are expected to and will be relied on to make a strong impact in the series.

Just like the Magic successfully did against the Cavaliers all season long.   

2) Wrong – 3-Point Shooting

The Orlando Magic's 3-point shooting against the Cleveland Cavaliers this season was not good. And if you do not include the final game, where they shot 56 percent from deep, it was abysmal. The Magic shot 8.7 percent (2 for 23), 26.9 percent and 37.9 percent respectively during their first three matchups.

In postseason NBA basketball, those splits definitely are not going to cut it. 

The Cavs were not lights out from three against the Magic either, only passing the 40 percent mark in two of the four contests. Despite that, with Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland, Max Struss and Sam Merrill in the lineup, the Cavs remain a dangerous team from beyond the arc in a seven-game series.

Orlando certainly lost the first game against Cleveland because of a poor shooting effort, wasting Paolo Banchero's first 40-point game. And the Cavaliers defeated the Magic in January because of a 3-point barrage that included eight threes from Merrill.

Orlando will have to do a much better job shooting from deep in the games ahead if they want to be able to fend off any potential offensive onslaughts from Cleveland.

If Orlando’s shooting this series remains the status quo and a player like Max Struss (who earned his contract in free agency by knocking down big shots all last postseason) starts filling up the basket, it could get late early for Orlando in this series.

3) Right – Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner

Arguably the biggest reason to believe in the Orlando Magic for the first round is that Orlando’s dynamic young duo has performed at a high level all season and against their upcoming opponents.

Averaging a combined 39.0 points,11.5 rebounds, and 8.5 assists per game, Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero have delivered against the Cavs. Banchero even scored 42 points in the first game (at the time his career high in the NBA) in December in Cleveland.

The Cavs have a talented young roster in their own right, but at times their team chemistry is lacking compared to that of the Magic's top two starting forwards.

It may not be fair because of their age, but because of their performance up until now, Banchero and Wagner will be asked to lead this team through the playoffs. The Magic will only go as far as they can take them. Both are relatively healthy, have progressed all season long and appear ready for the challenge that awaits them in the Playoffs.

It is a safe bet they will show up focused and ready to play. The only real question is how good is their best and how far will it take them in this series/beyond?

4) Wrong – Rebounding

If the Board Man gets paid – the Orlando Magic's frontcourt was short on checks against the Cleveland Cavaliers this year. The Magic were outrebounded by the Cavaliers in every single matchup except for the final one which ended as a stale mate in that category. 

Jarret Allen and Evan Mobley (when healthy) have played like men possessed grabbing rebounds against the Magic. Allen had 39 total in the four previous matchups this year and Mobley (who only played in two of the regular season matchups) had 13.

To make it even worse, Tristan Thompson had a 13-rebound performance by himself against Orlando earlier this season where he came off the bench.

The Magic at least are preceived as a weak rebounding team. But this goes against their type. Orlando is second in the league with a 73.7 percent defensive rebound rate. But the Magic grabbed only 69.5 percent of their rebounds against the Cavaliers this season.

This is an area the Magic will need to be sharp with to find success in this series.

For a team that has not shot well against Cleveland, poor rebounding could compound into a bad series formula. Missing threes and lacking the opportunity for second-chance points puts the Magic at a major disadvantage.

Whether it is Wendell Carter or maybe even Jonathan Isaac starting at center (more of this please!!), the two of them along with Moe Wagner and Goga Bitadze have no choice but to step their games up this series and clean up everything that comes their way.

Jalen Suggs vs. Donovan Mitchell key matchup in playoffs. dark. Next. Suggs vs. Mitchell 04.17.24

If the Magic's’ Board Men get paid this week, their chances to make it past the opening round are within reach.