Orlando Magic will need to win with physicality to beat Cleveland Cavaliers

The Orlando Magic have styled themselves as a physical team all season. That reputation plays perfectly into a series that will be all about the physical tone each team can set. The game will be won on the interior.
The Orlando Magic and Cleveland Cavaliers are expected to play a physical and bruising series. The more physical team may very well win.
The Orlando Magic and Cleveland Cavaliers are expected to play a physical and bruising series. The more physical team may very well win. / David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Darius Garland and the Cleveland Cavaliers know there is a fight coming their way. He spoke to the media in Cleveland on Thursday and previewed what he and his teammates know is coming. There is a lot of respect, it would seem, between the two teams.

Garland said the Orlando Magic are a team that likes to be handsy and physical. Knowing the playoffs are more physical anyway, they have been practicing with grabbing and physical play. They are expecting a fight.

The Magic have been doing much of the same. The Cavs are a big and bruising team that prides itself on defense too. There will be scratches and bruises coming out of this one.

Everyone knows the team that hits first is probably the one that is going to win the game and come out on top. The Magic and Cavs are both teams who pride themselves on their size and physicality. That is what helped both build top-10 defenses and have everyone anticipating a rock fight for the next few weeks.

Orlando ranked third in defensive rating, giving up 110.8 points per 100 possessions. Cleveland ranked seventh at 112.1. The Cavs had the 16th-best offense at 114.7, the Magic were 22nd at 112.9.

In a series where defense is the strength of each team, the games are going to be won on little things -- who happens to make shots on that particular game and the battle on the interior in the paint and the battle on the glass.

Everyone's focus on the grind that is coming. It will truly be a battle.

"I love it," Wendell Carter said after practice Friday. "That's the kind of player I am, being a good defender, rebounder, mucking up the game. Especially it being the playoffs, not as many fouls are going to be called. I think it's going to be a really entertaining series. For me personally, it being my first time in the playoffs and for a lot of young guys, it's going to be a really good experience for us. It's something we've prepared for and kind of spoken into existence from the start of the season."

The Magic have willed themselves into the postseason despite their poor outside shooting and offense overall. This is a team that has had to grind their way in with a suffocating defensive effort.

Going up against another big, versatile team like the Cavaliers is going to provide a challenge for sure. It was a matchup that proved difficult.

And if this series will be determined on the margins, then limiting possessions and extra possessions to prevent giving up threes on kickouts will be vital.

Orlando finished this season ranked second in the league in defensive rebound rate at 73.7 percent. The team was seventh in offensive rebound rate at 29.7 percent. The Magic were 11th in the league with 14.4 second-chance points per game and second in the league giving up 12.1 second-chance points per game.

By the numbers, at least, Orlando should have an advantage on the glass against Cleveland. The Cavs finished 14th with a 72.1 percent defensive rebound rate and 22nd with a 27.4 offensive rebound rate. The Cavs were 17th with 13.6 second-chance points per game and sixth giving up just 12.9 second-chance points per game.

Despite the size and rebounding prowess of Jarrett Allen (10.5 rebounds per game and 3.2 offensive rebounds per game) and Evan Mobley (9.4 rebounds per game and 2.2 offensive rebounds per game), this is a team that has struggled on the glass overall.

That does not make rebounding any less important. Everyone understands how dangerous Allen and Mobley can be on the glass and that the playoffs are about the matchups. The Magic have to outrebound the Cavs.

"I think asking and demanding our guards to get in there and help in the fight because they have a job to do with Mobley and Allen," coach Jamahl Mosley said after practice Friday. "They have guys who fly in there a ton. We have to make sure we are doing our job in the details of boxing out and going in the pursuit of rebounding and finishing possessions off."

While Cleveland relies a lot on Allen and Mobley to clean up the glass, the Magic are much more by committee on the glass. Their guards do contribute a lot on that end. Paolo Banchero and Wendell Carter led the team with 6.9 rebounds per game each.

Rebounding is indeed a team effort and that may be one of the concerns in this series.

Despite those poor full-season numbers, the Cavs dominated the Magic on the glass in their four matchups. The team had a 71.0 percent defensive rebound rate against the Magic, but a 30.5 percent offensive rebound rate. Cleveland scored 13.8 second-chance points per game against the Magic.

The numbers are no guarantee that the Magic will find success. In a matchup of narrow margins, this is an area that could determine each game's results.

"I think taking out the three-point and limiting the second-chance points is going to be super important," Carter said after practice Friday. "I think establishing that in the first game of the series is very important. Withstanding that throughout the whole series will be what wins us this series in my opinion. If we can take care of those two things, it gives us a really good chance to win."

Carter said he knows Mobley and Allen will be a challenge and he has a lot of responsibility to keep the Cavs' two big men off the glass. It will be a battle that will define much of this series for him -- and perhaps be the definitive series for his future with this growing team.

Rebounding though is a team effort. It is about will and force. It is about physicality.

And as much as anything else, this is where the physicality of this series and who is winning it is likely to present itself.

Both of these teams pride themselves on their paint and interior defense -- the Magic ranked eighth allowing 47.5 points in the paint per game while the Cavs ranked fourth with 46.5 per game. And that takes a lot of hitting and bumping. That takes being the ones to hit first to succeed.

The Magic have been a physical team all season. This should be nothing new. But the Playoffs will hit different. And how the Magic respond to this Saturday will set the tone for the season.

"We've been doing that for quite some time," Mosley said after practice Friday. "I think understanding that and knowing that is what we're prepared for. We've felt that in a lot of these games leading up to a playoff series. Our guys are prepared in that aspect of it. Now it's just preparing your mindset knowing what they're calling and what they're not calling and being able to move on to the next moment whether you get the call or not."

Next. Magic playoff chess match 04.19.24. Orlando Magic's chess match in the Playoffs lies in the details. dark

Both teams will aim to hit first when the ball is tipped. That is the way they play. And that is the fight the Magic and Cavs are expecting as this series gets set to begin.