Cavaliers Playoffs Preview: Cleveland's key matchups against Orlando Magic in Round 1

On the final day of the season, the Cleveland Cavaliers clinched the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference, securing a first-round series against the Orlando Magic.
Cleveland Cavaliers v Orlando Magic
Cleveland Cavaliers v Orlando Magic / Rich Storry/GettyImages

With a 120-110 loss to the Charlotte Hornets in game 82, the Cleveland Cavaliers have secured their first-round matchup with homecourt advantage against the fifth-seeded Orlando Magic.

Entering the day, the Cavaliers had a possible path to reclaim the second seed in the East, but it would have likely pitted them against the Philadelphia 76ers or Miami Heat in the first round. Donovan Mitchell, Darius Garland, Caris LeVert, Dean Wade and Sam Merrill were all absent from the game with various injuries and injury management protocols. Early in the matinee contest, rookie Craig Porter, Jr. was helped off the court by Mitchell with an apparent ankle sprain. He did not return to the game.

In the final minutes of the match, the Cavs seeminlgy punted with a lineup consisting of Pete Nance, Tristan Thompson, Isaiah mobley, Damian Jones and Emoni Bates. Clearly, Cleveland understood the possible playoff implications of a win against the Hornets and favored the possibility of the Magic or Indiana Pacers over the 76ers or Heat. Unfortunately, the 4-5 matchup against Orlando puts the Cavaliers on the Boston Celtics' side of the postseason bracket, meaning the Cavs would enter the second round as heavy underdogs if they surpass the Magic.

Regardless of who they might face in round two, the Cavaliers know where they stand through 82 games. Cleveland and Orlando split their regular-season series 2-2 this year, though only one game included all of the Cavaliers' ideal starting five. In that match, the Cavaliers won 121-11, but the Magic were without Wendell Carter, Jr. in their starting lineup.

With the postseason now at hand, the Cavaliers must take control of the series in two key matchups in order to overcome the reputation they earned from last year's embarrassment to the New York Knicks.

Matchup No. 1 - Donovan Mitchell vs. Jalen Suggs

Entering the series, the Cavaliers will have the undisputed best scorer on the court with Donovan Mitchell. Paolo Banchero will lead the Magic's offense, but the second-year stud has not shown the level of excellence as a scorer that Mitchell has over his career. The Magic will likely employ defensive pest Jalen Suggs as their counter. This season, Suggs earned a 1.5 Defensive Box Plus/Minus score, tied for the 21st highest DBPM in the NBA.

Mitchell is still on the mend from a lingering knee soreness and fractured nose, but with time to rest before April 20's playoff premier, the Cavaliers will hope to enter the series with the best of Spida on display. With Mitchell's vastly-improved playmaking and passing this season, his crafty driving ability and deep shooting will open opportunities for his teammates to punish any moments when Orlando overcommits to keep Mitchell from a good opportunity.

Mitchell's last performance against the Indiana Pacers suggests he will be in good condition for the playoffs. He ended the night with a game-high 33 points alongside five assists and four steals. Mitchell's improved defensive energy and overall offensive leadership sets him apart from any matchup he may face against the Magic, especially if his conditioning continues improving quickly.

Entering any series with homecourt advantage and an MVP-caliber player will put the Cavaliers in a healthy spot to advance. Jalen Suggs will force Mitchell to play calculated, pushing him to his limit offensively. On his own, though, Suggs cannot create the same level of offensive firepower that Mitchell provides every night.

Matchup No. 2 - Clash of the Frontcourt Titans

in Cleveland's two losses to Orlando this season, one component stood tall as the fatal flaw for the Cavaliers. While inexperienced and young, the Magic frontcourt is unafraid of creating contact and pushing around their opponents in the post to create extra possessions and bully their rival.

Franz Wagner, Wendell Carter, Jr. and Moritz Wagner will work to repeat Cleveland's rebounding woes from last postseason. If the Cavaliers shy away from contact, their chances of victory will diminsh fast. Luckily for the Cavs, both of their starting bigs Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen have put together dependable seasons on the boards. Mobley has averaged a career-high 9.4 rebounds in a career-low 30.8 minutes per game. His running mate Allen set franchise history with a string of double-doubles.

The Cavaliers still show inconsistent grit when fighting for rebounds, but the high moments for their big men is a hopeful indication that they will be prepared for the challenge. The Cavaliers actively gamed the standings to face Orlando, meaning they should enter the series with much higher confidence and will power than what they had against New York.

Throughout the series, the Cleveland Cavaliers will face a multitude of setbacks and battles. The Orlando Magic earned their two wins over Cleveland this season. Still, it is the Cavaliers' series to lose. They know what crushing defeat feels like now, and they recognize that another early exit is far from acceptable. If the Cavs win these two matchups and produce for one another, they have everything it takes to have a deserved break between rounds one and two with a quick round-one victory.

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