Magic-Cavaliers series features clash of similar, stingy styles

The chase for the Larry O’Brien Trophy begins in the Eastern Conference on Saturday when the No. 4 seed Cleveland Cavaliers host the No. 5 seed Orlando Magic in Game 1 of their opening-round series.

Saturday marks Orlando’s first playoff contest since bowing out to Milwaukee in the first round of the 2020 playoffs in the Orlando-area bubble. Despite qualifying for the postseason in 2019-20, that season marked the first of four straight that ended with the Magic posting losing records — a streak that ended with this year’s 47-35 mark.

Orlando capped its regular season with a 113-88 rout of Milwaukee last Sunday, snapping a three-game losing skid to conclude its best campaign since going 52-30 in 2010-11. The Magic have not advanced beyond the first round since 2009-10, when they reached the Eastern Conference finals.

This season’s breakout came on the strength of Orlando boasting the NBA’s fourth-lowest points-per-game yield (108.4), the second-fewest made field goals allowed per game (39.8) and the fewest offensive rebounds surrendered per contest (8.9).

The Magic also sport the NBA’s stingiest allowances of total field-goal attempts (84.0), total rebounds (39.9) and assists (23.9) per game.

That the two teams have similar styles reflects the relationship between head coaches Jamahl Mosley of Orlando and J.B. Bickerstaff of Cleveland.

“We’ve been friends for years. (Bickerstaff)’s one of my closest friends,” Mosley said Thursday. “Part of us being good friends off the court, we’ve always leaned on each other for different things. …

“We also know and respect the craft we’re both in, and it’s going to be about putting our teams in the best position to be successful. It’s competition at the end of the day.”

If the competition in the postseason mirrors the regular season, expect a long series. The Cavaliers and Magic split four head-to-head matchups: Orlando won 104-94 at home on Dec. 11 and 116-109 in Cleveland on Feb. 22; and the Cavaliers won 121-111 at home on Dec. 6 and 126-99 in Orlando on Jan. 22.

Paolo Banchero, the Magic’s leading scorer on the season at 22.6 points per game, averaged only 16 points per game in the wins but put 30 points a game in the two losses — including a 42-point burst in the first meeting on Dec. 6.

Darius Garland scored his season-high 36 points against Orlando in the Dec. 11 loss, went for 26 points and nine assists in the Dec. 6 win, and had an 18-point, 10-assist double-double in the Feb. 22 loss.

Donovan Mitchell scored 82 combined points in three games vs. the Magic, slightly outpacing his team-leading 26.6-point per game average for the season.

Mitchell and Garland both missed considerable time this season, with Mitchell sidelined much of the final two months due to a knee injury and broken nose.

“You go from (Most Valuable Player) talks to then you’re hurt, and people forget about you,” Mitchell told “People can say what they want to say. When you’re out and hurt, you’re not there. …You’ve got to continue to put your stamp on the game every chance you get. I feel like I’m one of the best players to play this game, so it’s about just continuing to go out there on a daily basis, working, showing it and proving it.”

Mitchell and Garland are both set for the playoffs, along with defensive stopper Evan Mobley, who missed long stretches of the regular season.

As for the Magic, Mosley said that “everybody’s healthy. …Guys are champing at the bit to be able to get into that first game.”