Wednesday, May 20, 2009

ECF: Cavs vs. Magic

So it is finally upon us. After what seems like a month-long layoff, the Cavaliers finally return to the court tonight to start the Eastern Conference Finals vs. the Orlando Magic. It's pretty much been a forgone conclusion since the Cavs wrapped up the #1 seed in the East that they would reach this point in the postseason. So to me, this is where the playoffs truly begin for this team.

So what can we expect from this series? Orlando is a talented team, no doubt about it. But are they on the same level as the Cavs? I have my doubts. They can certainly make you pay from outside the arc if you leave them open. And Dwight Howard is a load to deal with in the paint. The Magic certainly seem to be confident after knocking off the Celtics in Game 7 in Boston.

Will Orlando have an answer for #23? We'll soon find out.

That said, they also struggled at times with the 76ers in the first round. The same Sixers team that the Cavs' bench took to overtime in a game that meant absolutely nothing to the Cavs and everything to Philly. And then when the Magic took down the Celtics I wasn't exactly bowled over. The Celtics in this postseason were a shadow of their championship team of last season. And Orlando threw away at least two games in which they had large leads. I said back in December that I thought Orlando lived by the 3-point shot way too much. And I still think that Howard is somewhat of a glorified garbage man on offense. Much of his damage comes off rebounds or plays in which he is allowed to establish position way too low in the post. Don't get me wrong, he is a freak of an athlete, but he really isn't my huge concern heading into this series. The key will be how the Cavs are able to deal with Terkoglu and Lewis, the Magic's big forwards that love playing on the perimeter.

So how do I see this series going? I think it will be a much larger challenge than the previous two series for the Cavs. But ultimately, I don't see any way that the Magic can beat us. LeBron is just playing at such a high level right now. And contrary to what the national "experts" may tell you, he has plenty of help this time around to get this team back into the Finals. I see Z being able to pull Howard away from the basket and open things up for LeBron. I also see Delonte and Mo taking on a bigger role in penetrating and being aggressive on offense. And I see the Cavs' experienced bench playing a major role in this series. And don't forget about the Cavs' advantage on the sidelines with Mike Brown vs. Stan "the Master of Panic" Van Gundy. Brown has shown the ability to make great adjustments in tough playoff series since taking over for the Cavs. I think that will be a factor in this series as well. Add it all up and I see the Cavs winning in 6 games. If they go up 2-0, I could see it ending in 5. But for now I want to stick with Mike Brown's mantra of "one game, one practice, one shootaround at a time." Just get Game 1 and then worry about Game 2. Eight down, eight to go. Go Cavs.