Magic shoot for playoff dreams against Cavs
The Orlando Magic hope to bounce back from an important setback in the Eastern Conference playoff race when they host the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night.
The Magic's 100-90 loss at Washington on Wednesday, coupled with Miami's 108-74 win over Detroit, dropped Orlando (31-38) two games out of the final playoff spot in the East.
The Magic get an opportunity to move a half-game closer to current No. 7 Detroit (34-33) and current No. 8 Miami (32-35) against a Cleveland team that's lost three straight on the road and three of four overall.
The clubs split a pair of head-to-heads earlier, each winning on its home court. Thursday's game completes the three-game season series.
The Magic will have to avenge a costly 107-93 loss at Cleveland on March 3 if they're going to win the season series from the Cavaliers for the first time since 2012.
Orlando appeared to be in good shape in that meeting until watching Cleveland explode for 40 points, 21 on 3-pointers, in the fourth quarter to win going away.
The loss prompted Magic coach Steve Clifford to close the locker room doors in order to get his club's undivided attention in the wake of the lesson-learning defeat.
"Every game counts the same," he told reporters later of the message. "To not look at it that way, that every game is important, it's a losing mentality and a total lack of understanding what the NBA is."
The Magic, who are trying to make the playoffs for the first time since 2012, have played two non-contenders since the defeat, beating Dallas at home before losing at Memphis.
Orlando had one similar problem against Washington on Wednesday as it had in the earlier Cleveland defeat -- bench production.
Key reserve Terrence Ross shot just 1-for-12, including 0-for-6 on 3-pointers, in the loss at Cleveland. He was only a bit better -- seven points on 3-for-13 shooting (0-for-6 again on threes) -- Wednesday against the Wizards.
The Cavaliers, meanwhile, have been able to spread the offensive wealth more of late with the return of Kevin Love from foot surgery.
The former All-Star has recorded double-doubles in six of his last eight games after recently returning from a 3 1/2-month absence, including 16 points and 18 rebounds in a 25-point win over Toronto on Monday.
He should be well-rested for the Magic, having been given the game off when Cleveland completed a back-to-back with a loss at Philadelphia on Tuesday.
Even though it opened a three-game trip on a losing note, Cavaliers coach Larry Drew was impressed with his club's desire to compete despite being at a scheduling disadvantage in the 106-99 loss to the 76ers.
"That's a sign of growth with my team," he gushed to reporters afterward. "I think in the past we've been in those situations before and we haven't responded to it. But I thought tonight we did respond. We kept fighting, we kept fighting. I give my guys credit for continuing to play hard and compete at a high level."
--Field Level Media
Updated March 14, 2019