The Magic went 2-1 straight up and 3-0 ATS vs. the Cavs this year, but Cleveland has scarily turned their game up a notch in post-season while the Magic have held their same level. The Cavs prevail.
You may recall that before these NBA Playoffs began, we predicted that the Los Angeles Lakers would meet the Orlando Magic in the Finals.
Well, while both of those teams have made it to their respective conference finals and we still feel that the Lakers will win the NBA Championship, we now feel that their opponent will be the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The reason for the switch has nothing to do with how the Magic have played. In fact, if you watched Orlando beat the Celtics in seven games, you should know that they easily could have won that series in five games if not for some questionable coaching. Rather, the reason we changed our minds is that the Cavaliers are simply playing in a different stratosphere right now.
It seems strange to say this about a team that had the best record in the NBA at 66-16 during the regular season, but Cleveland is actually better than we thought. Sure, they caught a break by drawing the worst team in these playoffs in the Detroit Pistons in the first round, but they were still impressive in holding them to no more than 84 points during a four-game sweep.
They then followed that up by limiting the Atlanta Hawks to no more than 85 points during another sweep. What most impressed us about that series was that the Hawks were one of the best home teams in the league during the season at 31-10, and they had given the Cavs fits in Atlanta. Yet, when it counted the most, the Cavaliers went into Atlanta and dominated Game 3 and Game 4, not even giving the Hawks a sniff of confidence.
So to recap, the Cavaliers are 8-0 during the playoffs so far while holding their opponents to an unbelievable 78.1 points per game. For the whole year, they are allowing 90.2 points per game combining regular season and playoffs, easily the best in the NBA. If defense wins championships, this team is built to win it all.
So who can beat Cleveland in a four out of seven series? It would have to be an athletic team that is quick enough to beat their stifling defense (Lakers?), and having a superstar running the show would not hurt (Lakers?). Unfortunately, as much as we love the way the Magic are playing at the right time, they too are a defensive oriented team and their superstar is a defensive stud that usually does not score from more than a couple of feet from the hoop in Dwight Howard.
So aside from LeBron James and Howard, the rest of the rosters of these two teams are very similar in their defensive styles, except that the Cavaliers do it better. That Cleveland edge is compounded when you look at James and Howard on a one-on-one basis. This is because while Howard is superior defensively, James has also come a long way on that side of the ball, even garnering some Defensive Player of the Year votes himself. Offensively of course, it is no contest.
Now, will the Cavaliers have as easy a time with the Magic as they did in the first two rounds? We would think not. After all, Orlando was one of the few teams to have a winning record vs. Cleveland this season, as the Magic won two of the three meetings straight up and went 3-0 against the spread in those games. Not surprisingly, the home team won all three of those games SU.
That head-to-head performance was the primary basis for us picking the Magic to upset the Cavaliers in this round before the playoffs began. However, it appears that the Cavs have actually stepped up their game further since the regular season, if that is possible, while the Magic are playing basically at the same level they have all year.
Therein lies the difference, and while this series will not be a sweep (in fact, do not be shocked if the teams are tied 2-2 after four games), we do now believe that the overall superiority of Cleveland will win out in this meeting of two teams with similar styles.
Prediction: Cavaliers in 6