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Wham's Playoff Preview, 1st round: Cavs vs Magic

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Orlando and Cleveland are similar in that they are excellent defensively and slightly below average offensively. In terms of points per 100 possessions (excluding garbage time) Orlando ranks 22nd in points scored while the Cavs are 6th in points allowed.

On the other end of the court, the Cavs are 18th in scoring while Orlando is 2nd in scoring defense. Both teams feature defenses that are much better than the opposing offenses. The Cavaliers and Magic ranked 14th and 15th in effective field goal percentage.


Orlando ranks 7th in offensive rebound percentage while the Cavs rank 7th in defensive rebounding percentage, so they are both strong on the glass when Orlando misses a shot. The Magic averaged 10.5 offensive rebounds per game for the season but in four games against the Cavs their average was 9.3. The Cavs did a nice job on the defensive glass against this team.

The Cavs were below average on the offensive glass, ranking 22nd, while the Magic with that huge front line ranked 2nd on the defensive glass, so don’t expect many offensive boards by the Cavs. But the Cavs averaged 11.0 offensive rebounds against the Magic this year, higher than their season average. I would definitely be happy with 11 offensive rebounds per game in this series.

When Orlando has the ball:

Orlando leads the NBA in shooting frequency at the rim at 38.5%. They are 14th in accuracy at the rim. The Cavaliers are 3rd best in opponents’ percentage at the rim. So basically, Orlando takes more shots at the rim than any team, they’re average at making them, and the Cavs are 3rd best at forcing misses at the rim. Seems like a good matchup for the Cavs.

The Magic are 8th in points in the paint, 27th in fast break points, and last in points from 3’s. They are massively dependent on getting points in the paint from their half-court offense.

The one area they excel offensively is free throw attempts per offensive play. They are 6th in free throws made per game, so the Cavs need to be conscious of not fouling excessively. They are 26th in assists per possession, so they tend to isolate and then attack the rim, hoping for a bucket or a foul.

Orlando ranks 25th in mid-range frequency and 26th in mid-range accuracy. They take few mid-range shots and they miss more than all but four teams. The Cavs are 7th best at forcing misses on mid-range shots. This is a bad matchup for the Magic and I don’t see them taking many mid-range shots.

Orlando ranks 27th in 3-point frequency and 25th in 3-point accuracy; the Cavs rank 21st in defending 3’s. The Cavs are below average but the Magic take fewer 3’s than all but three teams and are well below average at making them.

So the Magic are in the bottom six in both mid-range and 3-point frequency while leading the NBA in shots at the rim. They do not have a balanced offense that can score on all three levels. They don’t score in transition. And they’re not all that great at the rim, ranking just 14th in shooting percentage, while the Cavs are 3rd in rim protection. This team is a great matchup for the Cavaliers defense, as long as they don’t get their bigs in foul trouble.

I’m wondering if Damian Jones and Tristan Thompson may have bigger roles than in the regular season with the Magic having five players that are 6’10” and another 6’11”.

When the Cavaliers have the ball:

Offensively the Cavs are similar to the Magic in that they prefer to attack the rim, ranking 5th in frequency, and are average at converting shots at the rim, ranking 18th. Strus, LeVert, Okoro, and Garland all made between 58-61% of their shots at the rim - well below average for their positions.

The Magic ranked 10th at defending the rim, so they were above average but not elite. When the Cavs’ smaller players (the exception being Mitchell) to go inside they should be looking to pass first or shoot a floater or a pull-up jumper rather than a layup. They especially need to be careful about kick-outs from the paint; the Magic were 3rd in steals per play. With all that length they can easily intercept passes from the paint to the perimeter.

When Garland, LeVert, or Strus get into the paint they should look to pass to a big or shoot a floater or pull-up jumper. Layups are likely to get blocked and passes to the corner or wings are likely to be stolen.

The Cavs were last in the NBA in mid-range frequency; they’ve clearly been coached to avoid that shot at all costs. But they rank 7th in accuracy on the long mid-range shots (from 14 feet to the 3-point line). These are mostly jumpers from the elbows.

I think they should take more of these shots, especially if the alternative is to attack the rim against a couple of 6’10” guys. Garland, Mitchell, Strus, and Niang are all shooting 47-50% on these shots. If the 3’s aren’t falling and the rim is protected then the mid-range jumper is not a bad shot, IMO.

The Cavs rank 7th in 3-point frequency and 15th in 3-point accuracy. Orlando ranks 14th in defending 3’s, but they are 3rd in defending corner 3’s, probably because the 6’10” guys on their front line only need two steps from the paint to contest a corner 3. Or maybe their defense is just structured to prevent corner 3’s, which are 2.5% more accurate than the non-corner variety.

So this is a wash as the Cavs are average at making 3’s and the Magic are average at defending them. However, the Magic rank 18th at defending non-corner 3’s while the Cavs are 11th at making them, so the Cavs actually have a small edge on the non-corner 3’s whereas the corner 3’s will be difficult to get off.

Bottom line:

On defense the Cavs need to protect the rim without excessive fouling and force the Magic to shoot either mid-range jumpers or 3’s, neither of which they like to do nor are they good at.

On offense the Cavs need to use their advantage in quickness to break down the defense and create open 3’s (especially from the wings) and force their bigs to contest the layup, allowing a pass to our bigs for the finish. The key is avoiding turnovers as the Magic are 2nd in forcing turnovers with those long arms.

Instead of throwing a ton of passes the Cavs may be better getting a quicker player on a taller, less agile player and attacking the rim with a Cavs’ big ready for a pass or to crash the glass.

Orlando personnel:

PF Paolo Banchero, 22.6 ppg, 7 rebounds, 5 assists. Shoots 45% overall but just 34% on 3’s. The Magic are outscored by 9.1 points per 100 possessions when he is on the floor; easily the worst of their rotation players. In fact, nobody else is worse than -2.6.

Banchero is a high volume but low productivity shooter. He's in the top 1% in usage but only in the 17th percentile at his position in points per shot attempt.

SF Franz Wagner, 19.7 ppg, 5 rebounds on 48% overall and 28% on 3’s. Like Banchero he’s 6’10”. He has the team’s 3rd best plus/minus at +5.3.

PG Jalen Suggs, 12.6 ppg on 47% overall and 40% on 3’s. The Magic are 2.6 points worse when he is on the floor.

SG Gary Harris, 7 ppg on 44% and 37%. The Magic are pretty much the same whether he plays or not (+1.7 points).

C Wendell Carter Jr, 11 points and 7 rebounds in 26 minutes. Carter shoots 53% and 37%.

The bench consists of PG Cole Anthony, 11.6 points on 44% and 34%, C Mo Wagner, 11 points and 4 rebounds in 18 minutes per game, PG Markelle Fultz, 8 points on 47% and 22%, and C Jonathan Isaac, 7 points and 5 rebounds in 17 minutes. Isaac is an outstanding defender who leads the Magic with a +9.6. Second is Joe Ingles at +6.7. Ingles is a 36-year-old sharpshooter who averages just 4.4 points in 17 minutes, but shoots 43.5% on 3’s. You can’t leave him alone.

Key matchups:

Donovan Mitchell against Suggs and Fultz, two big, physical, aggressive, and defense-oriented guards. Can they slow him down?

Jarrett Allen against Carter and Isaac. Isaac is easily their best defender.

Evan Mobley against Banchero and possibly Franz Wagner, if he guards him.

Strus and Okoro against Franz Wagner, who will have a big height advantage over both of them.

What they are saying:

We’re going to have to show them what playoff basketball is and go out there, and…throw the first punch, and that’s what you’re looking to do in any type of fight because that’s what playoff basketball is. It’s a seven-game series, and it’s a fight. Every second that’s out there, it’s a fight. - Georges Niang

If you allow them to play in the half court, they use their size defensively to keep everybody in front, crowd the paint and make it difficult. - JBB

They’re tough. They play physical. They play hard. They’re young and they’re hungry. We better be ready to match the physicality and the physicality goes up in the playoffs, so we better be ready to make some tough plays, play tougher and just play our game. - Max Strus

I think we just have to go in with the mentality that we have to throw the first punch. It’s one of those first-to-85 type of games. It’s gonna be a lot of defense. Nothing is gonna come easy in the paint or on the 3-point line. - Jarrett Allen

Orlando was awesome with defensive hydra Jonathan Isaac on the floor, outscoring opponents by 10.8 points per 100 possessions and allowing just 102.1 points per 100 possessions. He won’t start, but he’ll be a huge factor against the Cavs’ huge frontcourt…Don’t sleep on this one: Points will likely be scarce, and it could become a ’90s-style rock fight. - John Hollinger

Five of the Magic’s top-eight minute-earners — Fultz, Franz Wagner, Mo Wagner Cole Anthony, and Paolo Banchero — shoot worse than 34% from 3-point range. One more rotation piece — defensive stopper Jonathan Isaac — attempts fewer than two 3-pointers per game. So when those players take the floor, Cleveland can take stress off its defense with a simple defensive strategy: Let ‘em shoot. - Jimmy Watkins

I listened to a podcast from a Cavs fan in Canada named Justin Rowan who did a numbers dive and came up with some interesting stuff. I assume his research is accurate. According to him and his podcast buddy Carter Chase…

1. Orlando has the NBA’s #1 defense since the All-Star break. They lead the NBA in free throw attempts. Their offense is designed to get a favorable matchup based on height advantage and attack the rim, drawing the foul. They also force a ton of turnovers on defense, ranking 2nd.

The Magic win by playing great defense, forcing lots of turnovers, and drawing a ton of fouls by getting into the paint with a height advantage. They are 2nd at defensive rebound percentage. They are very tall and play at a slow pace so nobody is leaking out in transition. Everybody goes for the rebound since they don't fast break.

2. The Cavs, OTOH, need to push the pace and get good shots before Orlando can set up their half-court defense, as JBB said in the quote above. Orlando will want to slow it down, the Cavs will want to speed it up.

3. The Cavs are 7th in 3-point frequency while the Magic are 25th, so this will be a series between a team that wants to push the pace, pass the ball to create good shots, and shoot 3’s against a team that wants to go slow, force switches, and then attack matchups.

4. No Cavs’ 5-man unit has played more than 17 minutes against Orlando. The current Cavs’ starters have played together for 12 minutes against the Magic this year and have a +26 point differential with a offensive rating of 130 points per 100 possessions, which is excellent.

5. [A tweet] One thing I really want to keep an eye on is how the two bigs do vs Orlando. In 31 minutes [Mobley and Allen] played vs Orlando the Cavs had a 129.2 ORTG, 93.9 DRTG, 100.61 pace and a 84.4 DREB%.

I think maintaining a higher pace when big is going to be really important for the offense. - Justin Rowan @ Cavsanada

If those numbers are correct the Cavs kicked butt when Allen and Mobley were on the floor together. They played fast, dominated the defensive glass, and were a +35 points per 100 possessions. Mobley is shooting 62% and Allen 70% against the Magic.

6. Of the other 29 NBA teams, the Cavaliers had the 5th best offensive rating against Orlando. They had games of 126, 121, 109 (with Mitchell out), and 94 points against the Magic. Mobley and LeVert were out when they scored 94. For some reason the Cavs did better than all but four teams against the Magic’s defense this year.

7. Since the All-Star break Strus and Niang are hitting 41% and 42% of their 3’s. Garland and Mitchell will have seven days off by the time they play Game 1, which will help them physically.

8. The Magic are not a good road team with an offensive rating of 110.4 on the road and a record of 18-23. Banchero only shot 2-for-10 when guarded by Okoro in the last game.

9. Suggs and Isaac are great defensive players.

10. All the Cavaliers except Wade, LeVert, and Merrill had a positive plus/minus when playing Orlando. (I might add that LeVert was injured for three of the four games).

11. Rowan's concern is the Cavs getting in foul trouble. The Magic have three starters and three bench players who are 6’10”. The Cavs have just Mobley and Allen, unless they want to use Damian Jones. If Mobley or Allen has to sit because of foul trouble the Cavs would face a huge height disadvantage at two positions.

So that’s the preview. FWIW, I don’t buy the prevailing wisdom that the Magic are a young team with no playoff experience so they are at a big disadvantage. I heard the same thing when the Browns played the Texans in the playoff game; Stroud was a rookie QB, most of the Texans had never experienced the playoffs, the Browns had battle-tested veterans like Flacco and Amari Cooper, there’s no substitute for playoff experience, etc. The talented young Texans destroyed the Browns.

I agree with what Max Strus said - the Magic are young, hungry, tough, and physical and the Cavs better be ready to match the physicality. I’m sure the Magic are aware that the Cavs are talking about “throwing the first punch” and “showing them what playoff basketball is” and will respond accordingly.

In none of the games was rebounding a major factor. Both teams were pretty even. I think it will come down to turnovers and 3-point shooting. The Cavs can win if they limit their turnovers and hit a decent percentage of 3’s. The lost to Orlando twice in the regular season; once when they missed 31 of 40 threes and the other when they committed 19 turnovers that led to 28 points.


Rubber Rim Job Podcast Video

Episode 3-15: "Cavs Survive and Advance"

Rubber Rim Job Podcast Spotify

Episode 3:15: Cavs Survive and Advance