The pressure is on for the Cleveland Cavaliers to prove themselves in the playoffs

Cleveland Cavaliers v Orlando Magic
Cleveland Cavaliers v Orlando Magic / Rich Storry/GettyImages

After a long 82-game regular season, the Cleveland Cavaliers are here: the NBA Playoffs. A season filled with adversity, injury, triumph and joy has led to their first-round date with the Orlando Magic in the first round of the playoffs. 

For all intents and purposes, this is the ideal matchup for the Cavs. They are going up against an inexperienced Magic squad that is the worst offensive team in the postseason and lack the shooting needed to advance in the playoffs. However, this feisty Orlando squad has Paolo Banchero, Franz Wagner, Jalen Suggs, Jonathan Isaac,and others who can make life difficult for the Cavs on both ends of the floor. Counting out the Magic now could lead to another early exit for Cleveland.

This is the matchup Cleveland wanted. No one in the organization is going to admit it, but they tanked the last game of the regular season against the Charlotte Hornets for this matchup. With a favorable matchup in front of them, they cannot squander the opportunity.

Cleveland has the length in the frontcourt that can give Banchero and F. Wagner trouble with Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen roaming the paint. They have dynamic guards in Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell that can make life difficult for Jalen Suggs and Cole Anthony. Cleveland also has the shooting Orlando doesn’t in Max Strus, Sam Merrill and Georges Niang.

It's do-or-die from game one for the Cavaliers

On paper, the Cavs should win this series. In reality, the Cavs HAVE to win this series. 

All the Wine and Gold have talked about all season is learning from the lessons they learned in their five game defeat to the New York Knicks last season and using it as fuel for this year. This squad has been longing for postseason redemption, not only for their own improvement, but for the team’s future.

In addition to that, they have one advantage over Orlando in the playoffs: experience. The Cavs have 359 games of playoff experience compared to 91 for the Magic. That is the one thing the Wine and Gold were lacking last year in their playoff series with the Knicks, so that excuse is out the window. 

As aforementioned, Cleveland has a distinct shooting advantage over Orlando. The Cavs were seventh in the league in three-pointers made per game at about 14 per contest. The Magic were dead last in that category with 11 made per game. The Cavs were also seventh in the league in attempts per game, while the Magic were 28th. Cleveland needs to maximize their perimeter abilities and force the Magic into contested, poor shots from deep.

Do the Magic have things they can hang their hat on? Yes, and most of that comes from the defensive end of the floor. Orlando was third in the league in defensive rating, second in defensive rebound percentage and fifth in steals. Especially with Jonathan Isaac expected to play heavy minutes in this series, Orlando’s defense is going to be very stingy. 

Nonetheless, the Cavs have a lot of counters to Orlando’s strengths. They were also in the top ten in defensive rating. They were top five in the NBA in defensive rebounds per game and have a threatening frontcourt with Mobley and Allen matching up with any combination of Banchero, either Wagner brother, Isaac and Carter. There is no excuse. They have what they need to win this series.

Let’s face it, if the Cavs flame out once again, this team and organization will face major questions regarding their current structure and possible future paths. If they lose, will J.B. Bickerstaff be seen as the right coach for this team? Does the pairing of Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen need to be broken up? Does Donovan Mitchell view Cleveland as the place for him long term? 

Cleveland is coming into this series after an up and down stretch post All-Star break, according to available information that showcases the team's rolling ratings since February.

Yes, those numbers are bad, but the Cleveland Cavaliers were missing Mitchell, Mobley and Dean Wade due to injuries which hurt on both ends of the floor. Now with the team nearly whole and Mitchell himself declaring he is 100 percent, there is no excuse. Cleveland has to get it done. Orlando was the matchup they wanted. Now they have to deliver. Otherwise, changes will come to the Wine and Gold next season.

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