Thursday NBA on TNT Preview: Cleveland at Orlando
by Matt Severance - 01/29/2009
The Orlando Magic failed their big test a week ago on TNT against the Boston Celtics, but they can redeem themselves this Thursday on the network by beating the Eastern Conference-leading Cleveland Cavaliers in the teams' first meeting of the season.
Last week's 10-point home loss to Boston had to be a disappointment, as Orlando entered as the hottest team in the NBA and on an 11-game home winning streak but dropped its second by double-digits in two meetings with the Celtics this year. In fact, the Magic went into about a 48-hour funk, as they then lost at Miami for their first two-game losing streak since the opening two games of the season.
But Orlando bounced back with a 135-111 win at Indiana on Tuesday, which was notable in the return of Mickael Pietrus from injury. Pietrus, who had missed the previous 12 games, had 27 points and 10 rebounds to lead a whopping eight Magic in double figures; despite Pietrus' return, rookie Courtney Lee remained the starter at shooting guard, although that may be short-lived. Dwight Howard had his 10th straight double-double and 34th of the season.
"They are the best team in the East ... hands down," Indiana's Danny Granger said afterward.
That Magic offense will see quite a different defensive club in the Cavs, who lead the NBA in holding opponents to just 90.6 ppg - Indiana allows an average of 106.9. Cleveland is second in the league in opponents' field-goal percentage and leads the league in average margin of victory at 10.6, the only team in double figures.
The Cavs also won on Tuesday night, beating Sacramento, 117-110. Mo Williams had the best game of his career by far with 43 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds, while LeBron James had 23 points, 15 rebounds and 11 assists. They became the first teammates to have at least 23 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds in the same NBA game since Cleveland's Butch Beard and John Johnson on Dec. 23, 1971. It was the first time in 11 games that James didn't lead the Cavs in scoring.
However, a concerning trend continued Tuesday as the Cavs allowed the Kings to shoot 50 percent, the highest Cleveland has allowed on its home floor this season. Sacramento's 110 points were the most the Cavs have given up all season. Over the last five games, the Cavs have given up 47 percent shooting and 103 points per game.
"You start to see a trend like that, you have to make sure you address it, that's part of my job," Cavs coach Mike Brown said to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "I know as a group we can do better on that end of the floor."
The big news for the Cavs heading into this game is whether they will have center Zyrdunas Ilgausakas back from injury. Big Z hasn't played this month due to an ankle injury and targeted returning for this game. But Brown said he would be cautious with his big man despite him practicing this week.
"I've got to have the OK from the doctors and then obviously I have to make sure I give the OK," Brown said.
There could be a side benefit to the winning team on Thursday night. With the East race so tight, either Orlando's Stan Van Gundy or the Cavs' Brown could wind up as the East coach in next month's NBA All-Star Game with a victory.
The Magic won three of four games last year, going 1-1 in Orlando, even though James averaged nearly a triple-double. Cleveland is just 1-7 ATS in the past eight meetings.
The Magic are listed as four-point favorites and the total has been set at 195 ½. Bet the game at BetUS.