5 questions about the Cleveland Cavaliers with King James Gospel

The Orlando Magic are getting set to open their series on Saturday in Cleveland against the Cleveland Cavaliers as they return to the Playoffs. Everything starts with knowing the opponent, so we get to know the Cavs with our friends from King James Gospel.
The Orlando Magic are preparing to take on the Cleveland Cavaliers in a matchup pitting two of the best defenses in the league against each other.
The Orlando Magic are preparing to take on the Cleveland Cavaliers in a matchup pitting two of the best defenses in the league against each other. / Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

The Orlando Magic have finally returned to the NBA Playoffs.

It was certainly a little touch-and-go in the final week as this young team dealt with the pressure and difficulty of scratching out one more win to clinch their spot. It felt like a preview and some experience for the journey to come.

For sure, the Magic's playoff journey this year is more about them and what they will learn. It is more about gaining the experience of playing in the Playoffs and using that to grow into this critical offseason and beyond.

Orlando can already count this season as a success after improving again by 13 wins to get to 47 wins this season and the 5-seed in the Eastern Conference. Everyone rightfully took the time to celebrate this accomplishment.

But . . . the Playoffs are here. And only one thing matters in the Playoffs: Winning.

You do not get here to show up. And the Magic have earned their way to the Playoffs. They have earned the right to be competitive in this series. Orlando should enter the series with the expectation and belief they can win.

The future can be saved for tomorrow. There is a lot to play for in the present for the Magic. The Magic should feel like they can win this series -- even if the oddsmakers are not on board yet.

The matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers is an interesting one.

It will feature two of the top-10 defenses in the league -- the Magic finished third at 110.8 points allowed per 100 possessions and the Cavaliers finished seventh at 112.1 points allowed per 100 possessions. This should be a drag-out fight for seven games.

Both the Magic and Cavs spent their year dealing with injuries and the ups and downs of the season. Orlando struggled in the final weeks of the season. But Cleveland went 13-18 to close the season. The season has seen some wild swings.

The series will present plenty of interesting matchups too. While the Magic certainly are at a disadvantage in playoff experience, they have plenty of advantages to press and plenty of shortcomings they will have to work to cover.

This is an excellent matchup for the Magic's first playoff series and what this team could potentially learn.

The Magic took Monday and Tuesday off for some rest and recovery days -- although I am sure they began broaching the gameplan in some team meetings. The work to prepare for Game 1 in Cleveland on Saturday begins Wednesday at the AdventHealth Training Center.

There is obviously a lot to prepare for.

We will do our part by getting in touch with the experts who cover the Cavaliers. I chatted with Caleb Crowley of King James Gospel to learn more about the Cavaliers and begin to look ahead to the series:

Philip Rossman-Reich, Orlando Magic Daily: The Cleveland Cavaliers got off to a hot start and kind of slowed down at the end of the season. What was the biggest factor in the slowdown and is that a concern in the Playoffs?

Caleb Crowley, King James Gospel: Two factors feed into each other.

First is Donovan Mitchell's health. He has not been healthy since the All-Star Break, and the Cleveland Cavaliers have had a brutal schedule in the entire final stretch since the All-Star Game, including numerous back-to-backs with stretches of five games in seven nights. There was no time to recover for Mitchell and get back to anything close to full strength.

The second is the cause of their intense schedule, that being their game in Paris. They only played one game in eight days, and they have been paying the price (or Paris Tax as I have heard it called) since then. It is hard to look primed for the playoffs when an MVP-caliber player is out with two injuries during the roughest section of the schedule.

The Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Brooklyn Nets 111-102 in Paris on Jan. 11. That was in the middle of an eight-game win streak and the middle of a stretch of 17 wins in 18 games. That was when the Cavs were at their peak.

But since the All-Star Break, the Cavaliers went 12-17. It was a struggle coming down the stretch as they fell from the 2-seed to the 4-seed (although they still had a chance at the 2-seed on the season's final day).

Philip: This year felt like a redemption season for the Cleveland Cavaliers after their loss last year to the New York Knicks. What was the biggest thing the young players learned this year? How do you think this season will be different?

Caleb: I would argue the number one thing the young players have learned most is confidence, especially in the cases of Isaac Okoro and Evan Mobley.

While Mobley's third season has been entirely derailed by injuries, he returned with a clearly changed mindset. He has confidently taken three-pointers at a respectable clip, even with stars defending him such as Kevin Durant or LeBron James. He has actively searched for contact on drives and post moves, making him far more dangerous as a scoring threat.

Okoro is still an elite defender, and his corner three punishes poor closeouts now. His baseline drives have always been his best move to the basket, and his confident shooting is allowing him to cut past defenders who jump time and time again.

Confidence is key for this young core, especially on the offensive side of the ball.

Evan Mobley is averaging 15.6 points per game and 8.1 rebounds per game since the All-Star Break. Isaac Okoro averaged 9.4 points per game but his 3-point shooting jumped to 39.1 percent this season.

Philip: Both the Orlando Magic and Cleveland Cavaliers have top-10 defenses, what is the key to Cleveland's defensive success?

Caleb: The easy answer is Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen. But I think the reason they can anchor the defense is the rest of the team knows how to maximize their value.

Rather than trying to lock up their assignment, the guards and wings (especially Donovan Mitchell and Max Strus) cut off their opponent's best spots on the perimeter, forcing them to drive. When they drive, they use their body to angle the ballhandler and funnel them into the middle of the paint where Allen and Mobley can easily contest.

It is a team effort with the ultimate goal of forcing a shot clock violation or allowing Mobley and Allen to swat away last-second attempts.

Philip: What is one matchup with the Orlando Magic that concerns you?

Caleb: Moe Wagner vs. Jarrett Allen. I know that Wagner is a reserve player, but the world knows how the Cleveland Cavaliers can crumble on the glass against physical centers.

Allen has improved in his hustle and production as a rebounder. But last year's playoffs still leave a sour taste when thinking about Allen against a tough, gritty interior presence such as Wagner.

The Cleveland Cavaliers despite their size finished the season only 14th in defensive rebound rate at 72.1 percent. Moe Wagner was very good against Cleveland, averaging 14.0 points per game in the four matchups with the Cavs.

Philip: What do you feel is the biggest swing factor for the series?

Caleb: Experience. Though the Cleveland Cavaliers' young core only has one more playoff experience than the Orlando Magic, Cleveland sought out veteran leadership this summer in Max Strus and Georges Niang.

Strus has become a leader for the team, both in his words and hustle plays. On the other hand, Orlando is mostly a homegrown squad, meaning it cannot rely on a veteran role player to inject as much extra life into the team in hard times as Cleveland can expect from Strus and Niang.

Additionally, Donovan Mitchell is hungry to redeem himself after last year. Nobody is going to care more about every second of every game than him.

Next. Magic selflessness 04.16.24. Orlando Magic's selflessness guided them to Playoffs. dark

My thanks to Caleb for answering some of our questions and helping us get ready for the series. Hopefully we will be able to check back in with him during the series. Game 1 is Saturday.