Up three games to one, Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic can hoist the Eastern Conference hardware tonight with a win over the Cavaliers. For coach Mike Brown's squad, the hope is being at home in Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena will provide the advantage needed to get past a Magic squad that has won 10 of the last 14 meetings, but will it be enough to cash the chalky 7½-point tickets for Cavs backers?
The Cleveland Cavaliers were one second away from being swept out of the playoffs.
There are 48 minutes in a regulation basketball game, and the first play is just as important as the last. But all other things being equal, if it weren’t for LeBron James hitting that improbable 3-point shot Friday night, the Cavs would be on the golf course and the Orlando Magic would be in the 2009 NBA Finals. Orlando is instead up 3-1 in this series at 4-0 ATS and showing no signs of slowing down.
There isn’t much room left on the Magic bus. They’re getting three-fourths of the action against the spread as 7½-point road dogs in Thursday’s Game 5, and virtually all the support at +320 on the moneyline. This has been the correct call for handicappers thus far; although the Magic are perfect against the spread (and 9-0 ATS against Cleveland dating back to last March), the +400 payday they earned in the opener has set the tone for this series.
The Cavs aren’t quite dead yet. They made some roster adjustments in Game 4 by giving Daniel Gibson and Wally Szczerbiak 21 minutes apiece. Szczerbiak didn’t work out; he sprained his left knee in March and has yet to regain the mobility he needs to defend the Magic on the wing. Gibson, on the other hand, was in tune with a pair of 3-pointers and a plus-6 on the night.
More adjustments need to be made. The Magic shot 17-of-38 (44.7 percent) from long range Tuesday night, and Dwight Howard burned the Cavs inside for 27 points on 10-of-16 shooting. The combination of Ben Wallace and Joe Smith went minus-21 in 20 minutes of tugging on Superman’s cape. Unless coach Mike Brown has the gumption to try rookie Darnell Jackson (7.2 PER) at power forward, he’s out of options in the paint.
There’s a chance we’ll see more of Sasha Pavlovic’s defense in Game 5, although he’s an offensive black hole when his 3-pointers aren’t falling. But the same can be said for just about everyone on the Cleveland perimeter not named LeBron James. The Cavs are 24-of-92 (26.1 percent) from downtown in this series. Mo Williams, who was so instrumental in Cleveland earning the No. 1 overall seed at 66-16 (50-32 ATS), is 3-for-20 (22.2 percent) from long range. Williams was the only “minus” starter for Cleveland on Tuesday at minus-5.
None of these theoretical lineup changes does much to give Cleveland any betting value for Game 5. The marketplace shift to Orlando’s side helps the Cavs if you take the contrarian approach of fading the public, but that’s about it. Unless Hedo Turkoglu woke up this morning and discovered he was 6-foot-3, the Cavs don’t have the length to deal with him at shooting guard aside from Pavlovic and King James himself. It’s on Williams to start hitting some shots.
The over is 3-1 in this series after cashing in Tuesday on the total of 187½ points – a payday that was secured before the two teams went into overtime. There were strong under trends for both teams going into this series (like 22-8 in Orlando’s previous 30 games), but the Magic offense has been too strong, even with Cleveland’s shooting woes factored in. The total for Game 5 is nonetheless the highest it’s been in this series at 190 points. Market surveys at press time had the over getting nearly 90 percent of the action.
One important note on the Howard front: He picked up his sixth technical foul of the playoffs during Game 4, but had it rescinded (correctly) by the NBA on Wednesday. Seven technical fouls earns you an instant one-game suspension. This decision will allow the big man to play a little more freely in Game 5 – bad news if you’re a Cleveland fan.