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Cavaliers look to steady ship against sinking Magic

Mar 28, 2022; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Darius Garland (10) dribbles the ball beside Orlando Magic forward Admiral Schofield (25) in the second quarter at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

With six losses in their last eight games, the Cleveland Cavaliers face a growing likelihood that they will be in the Eastern Conference play-in tournament.

Seventh-place Cleveland (43-36) begins the week trailing the Chicago Bulls and Toronto Raptors by 2 1/2 games as coach J.B. Bickerstaff’s club prepares for a Tuesday night matchup with the host Orlando Magic (20-59).

With three games remaining, the Cavaliers need help from Chicago and/or Toronto to grab a guaranteed playoff spot.

Otherwise, Cleveland will look to hold on to the No. 7 seed, and completing a season sweep against the Magic would be a good start. Charlotte (40-38) and Brooklyn (40-38) have clinched Eastern Conference play-in berths, and the eighth-place Atlanta Hawks are 1 1/2 games behind the Cavaliers.

Sunday’s 112-108 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers prompted Bickerstaff to call out the officiating in his postgame comments.

Joel Embiid and James Harden combined to shoot 32 of the Sixers’ 42 free throws, making 28, while Cleveland went 23 for 31 at the line.

“We can’t allow what happened tonight to dictate our future,” Bickerstaff said. “Our guys will take the good from this. I thought, again, we did a lot of really good things. Offensively, I thought we did a great job of creating for one another; we shared the ball. Defensively, we got stops and forced them (the Sixers) into tough shots. Again, it just came down to the indefensible, and you can’t guard the free-throw line.”

Darius Garland led five Cavaliers in double figures with 23 points. Caris LeVert and Lamar Stevens contributed 18 points apiece, Lauri Markkanen made four triples and scored 16 points, and Kevin Love had 12 off the bench.

Center Moses Brown totaled nine points and 12 rebounds as Cleveland continued to be without big men Jarrett Allen (fractured finger) and rookie Evan Mobley (ankle). Allen may be nearing a return after missing 15 consecutive games, while Rajon Rondo played 14 minutes Sunday in his first game since March 12.

Orlando has dropped six in a row, including Sunday’s 118-88 loss to New York, as the Knicks’ Immanuel Quickley posted his first career triple-double. The Magic were outscored 37-15 in the third quarter en route to their seventh defeat by 30 or more points.

The Magic faced the Knicks minus three starters — rookies Franz Wagner (ankle) and Jalen Suggs (ankle) and double-double leader Wendell Carter Jr. (wrist) — and a nagging toe injury forced Cole Anthony to the sideline at the 9:22 mark of the first quarter. Wagner sat out his first game after 78 straight starts.

Orlando did not defeat an Atlantic Division opponent at home in 2021-22.

Moe Wagner paced five Orlando players in double figures with 18 points and added nine rebounds.

The Magic’s five reserves combined for 51 points against New York as head coach (and former Cleveland assistant) Jamahl Mosley continues to get positive bench production down the stretch.

“That’s what we’re asking from all of our guys that no matter what’s going on in the game, that you play with a level of intensity,” Mosley said. “You play with a level of effort no matter what’s happening. And Moe does that, you know, on a nightly basis, just continuing to play hard.”

–Field Level Media