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Lebron will show you real magic!

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And then there were four. The Conference Finals kick off tonight out West with the Nuggets taking on the Lakers in LA, then tomorrow night in Cleveland it’s Game 1 for the Magic and Cavs. 

The Cavaliers are currently a serious, nine point favorite at the BetUS NBA sportsbook. LeBron & Co. have been getting in their rest this postseason, having played the minimum eight games. It’s been eight days since they played last, which definitely starts up the old rest vs. rust debate. Orlando clinched their spot on Sunday, but they shouldn’t be too weary with their three days off. There’s nothing to report on the injury front for either team.

How They Got Here

These two teams could not have had more different paths getting to the Conference Finals. The Orlando Magic have been underwhelming, to say the least. They played the how-did-you-make-the-playoffs 76ers in the first round, and managed to drop two games. They gave up or almost gave up huge second half leads in three of the contests. They drew another easy matchup in the second round, going up against a Garnett-less Celtics squad that featured major rotation minutes for Brian Scalabrine and Stephon Marbury. They blew a few more big time leads and ended up having to go seven games. Along the way, Dwight Howard blew up at his coach for no good reason. (You want more touches Dwight, how about learning a move in the post that you can score on?)

The Cavs didn’t face much in the way of strong opposition themselves, and they made that very clear with eight games, eight victories, eight double-digit cruise-control beat downs. To say they looked focused would be an understatement.

Offensive and Defensive Efficiency

Both of these teams had excellent regular seasons, especially on the defensive end. Orlando was first overall on defense, allowing only 98.9 points per 100 possessions. The Cavs weren’t far behind; they were tied for second, giving up 99.4. Offensively, Cleveland was fourth in the Association at 109.7 points scored per 100 possessions, while Orlando was back in eighth at 107.2.

In the playoffs, though, Cleveland has really stepped it up. They’re allowing a ridiculous 90.8 points per 100. The Magic have held steady, allowing 98.7. The Cavs are better at both ends of the floor; they’ve upped their offensive efficiency mark to 111.9. Orlando has fallen off at the offensive end, scoring only 105.3 points per 100 possessions so far in the playoffs.

Regular Season Vs. Record

Alas, there is a bright spot for the Magic as they took the season series against the Cavs 2-1. They met on April 3rd and the Magic devastated the Cavs 116-87. On March 17th it took a deep LeBron triple, two clutch free throws and a questionable call, all in the final minutes, for the Cavs to hang on at home. On January 29th the Magic took another easy one, with Howard notching 22 and 18 and LeBron struggling from the field. The Magic can beat the Cavaliers, no question there.

Player Matchups

LeBron will see a number of different defenders, with Lee, Turkoglu and Lewis all getting some minutes guarding him, but that doesn’t matter. He’ll beat all of them easily, even though they’ll be giving him space to shoot jumpers. The problem for LeBron is that when he does blow past (which he has to do for Cleveland to be successful, unless his jumper is on all series), Dwight will be waiting. If there’s one player with the strength, quickness and leaping ability to truly challenge and change LeBron’s shot, it’s Dwight Howard.

On offense, Howard should have a much easier time than he did against the Celtics. The Cavs don’t have anyone that even remotely resembles Kendrick Perkins. Ilgauskas will be helpless, and Ben Wallace is going to have to step up. However, the Cavs make the best rotations of any team in the league, and should be able to double Howard and recover. Howard is also very turnover prone. Watch out though if the Magic’s shooters get hot, because the Cavs will have to pick their poison.

Final Analysis

The Cavs play every minute of every game. They play with focus and discipline, and they flat out execute. Orlando has not shown that ability. However, Orlando has a lot of positives to look at and draw confidence from: the regular season record and the some of the player matchups. The series NBA odds at BetUS have the Cavs -800 and the Magic +500. I think that the Magic have about a 1 in 4 chance of taking the series, meaning there’s a lot of value at +500.

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