1. Spacing on offense is an issue for both of these teams. Which team is this more likely to be a problem for in this game?
Zach Oliver, Baller Mind Frame Magic Beat Writer: Spacing isn’t a huge problem for the Magic. Yes, it might not be something like Houston has, but it’s not their biggest concern, especially with a healthy Nikola Vucevic. So, I’ll go ahead and say the Cavs. The Magic have a team full of guys who can step out and shoot from at least 20 feet, and three guys – Vucevic, Andrew Nicholson and Glen Davis- who can go down low and attempt to score off postups. Now, if there’s a lineup with Davis and Jason Maxiell, spacing is a bit more of an issue. I can’t comment too much on the Cavs situation because I haven’t seen them play a ton this season, but from what I have gathered, both Andrew Bynum and Tristan Thompson prefer to try to score down low, with Kyrie, Dion Waiters, CJ Miles and Jarrett Jack trying to score on the perimeter.
Trevor Magnotti, Staff Writer: I’ll say the Cavs as well. The Magic haven’t been a great three-point shooting team, which can be damaging to spacing against a good defense that packs the paint. However, they have something the Cavs completely lack, and that’s decent ball movement. The Magic are a better passing team than the Cavs, and are more varied in their offensive attack, and this helps them out. The Magic have far more than just “Dump the ball to Bynum” and “Kyrie or Dion attack the basket and see what happens” on offense, and this variability, with as many as six guys (Nicholson, Vucevic, Harkless, Davis, Oladipo, Afflalo) who can hurt you on offense consistently, the Magic are far better off here than the Cavaliers
Marlowe Alter, Staff Writer: I agree with my comrades. Orlando has a versatile group of guards and forwards who can shoot from the perimeter and have multiple options on offense. Cleveland on the other hand, is largely built around Kyrie Irving and as a team has struggled to find an offensive rhythm for most of the season, thanks in part to ball-watching and poor cohesion. The Cavaliers currently lack a stretch-four who can provide ideal spacing (Bennett might be that guy) to allow Irving the room necessary to probe the defense without two or three defenders collapsing on him. Cleveland has won four of its last five games but owns the worst road record in the NBA at 1-10, shooting an anemic 32.5 percent from long range. Spacing isn’t entirely built on three-point shooting, however it is a key element because the wider you can stretch the defense, the more room you’ll have to operate. If the Cavaliers are going to turn this ship around, they’ve got to string together a few road wins and that starts tonight against an Orlando team ranked 27th in opponent three-point shooting.
2. Arron Affalo has been spectacular offensively, who should the Cavaliers stick on the veteran two-guard?
ZO: I would say C.J. Miles. Based on the numbers, he’s been pretty good defensively this season, and his length can really disrupt Afflalo from the start of the game. On Sunday and Monday night he was guarded by Chandler Parsons and Tayshaun Prince and ended up having his worst shooting performances in over a month. He’s going to find ways to get his shots up, whether that be off the dribble, coming off screens for catch and shoot opportunities or spotting up from deep. I think disrupting his timing is really the biggest key to slowing him down, because no matter what, he’s going to score someway. Also worth noting, he prefers the left side of the floor, as you can see below, so trying to force him to the right can also be a way to slow him down.
TM: It’s quite important for the Cavs to get a good two-way performance against Afflalo; we can’t forget he’s also a talented defender on the wing who will give the Cavs problems. Therefore, I’d pick Dion Waiters. Waiters can go off or suck against anybody, but if he’s on, he has the type of inside/outside game that can make him a headache to guard. He’s not the greatest defender, but he’s improved this season, and I think the combination of an average defensive night and providing a constant threat on O will limit Afflalo’s effectiveness.
MA: There are few quality shooting guards in the league today, but Affalo is playing as well as anyone at the two-spot and should be an all-star reserve in a paltry Eastern Conference. The duty will fall on C.J. Miles to keep Affalo under control at the start of the game, but after that it could get dicey. Miles has an inch on Affalo, who occasionally struggles against long defenders because he’s not particularly athletic. The Cavalier guards off the bench either lack the size, experience or the ability to play Affalo tough, so I envision Miles playing as much as 35 minutes in this game. No matter who the Cavaliers decide to place on Affalo, I think he’ll put up his usual 20 points.
3. Which Magic player will be harder for the Wine & Gold to defend: Nikola Vucevic or Moe Harkless?
ZO: Vucevic. Vucevic is possibly the Magic’s most important player. Prior to his return to the lineup on Wednesday night, the Magic were outrebounded by an average of 17 a game and struggled with consistency offensively in the four contests Vucevic missed. Outside of Afflalo, he’s been the best Magic player this season. Harkless has regressed a good bit so far this season, and Jacque Vaughn currently has him in a spot that’s hampering his development some. Since being moved to the bench, Harkless has struggled to find consistent playing time and his performance has shown. In nine games coming off the bench, Harkless has averaged just 5.9 points per game, and has taken seven shots or less in eight of nine. The regression of Harkless is worrisome and unless his playing time really increases soon, it’s hard to see Harkless being a real threat to teams.
TM: I’ve got to pick Vucci Mane. Harkless is struggling, which is sad to see after the second half of last year, but he’s also a guy the Cavs can guard pretty easily. He doesn’t have an outside game, which kills the Cavs, and he instead relies on a slashing and driving game, which I’m less worried about, especially with Bynum on the floor for rim protection. Vucevic is a powerful rebounder, and his presence on both ends will cause huge problems for the Cavs on the boards. I’d expect to see Tristan Thompson play a lot on Vucevic, especially when they pair him with Maxiell or Davis, and those two having a solid rebounding battle will be a lot of fun.
MA: Is this a trick question? Clearly Vucevic is the far better player right now. He is a double-double machine, a nimble big man who can knock down the 15-footer or play in the paint and showcase his soft touch around the rim. Vucevic provides a difficult test for the slow-footed Bynum and aging Anderson Varejao, and Thompson will be at a size disadvantage if Mike Brown decides to put him on ‘Vuc’. Moe Harkless, a 2012 first round pick, is just 20 years old but has obvious holes in his game, namely a shaky outside shot. He was benched late in November in favor of Glen Davis after struggling for the first month of the season. Harkless has played just 17 minutes over the past two games and failed to score in each outing.