Ohio Spotlight

April 25, 2024

NBA Playoff Preview: Cavaliers @ Magic (Thursday, 7 p.m. ET, NBATV)

© David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Cavaliers are currently dominating their first-round NBA playoff series against the Orlando Magic, leading 2-0 as the series shifts to the East Coast. In Game 1, the Cavs secured a 97-83 victory, largely thanks to a stellar 30-point performance from Donovan Mitchell, supported by 16 points each from Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen. Allen’s impressive 18 rebounds were a crucial part of the win. Cleveland outrebounded the Magic 54-40 and shot 44% from the field. Despite scoring under 100 points, the Cavs held Orlando to under 90 points in both games. The second game of the series looked much like the first, with the Cavs winning 96-86, led by Mitchell’s 23 points and Allen’s 20 rebounds. As the series moves to Orlando, the Cavs have an opportunity to further pressure the Magic with a win in Game 3.

Orlando is a better team than they have shown through the first two games, and the Magic head into Game 3 as a two-point favorite. Fans of the Cavs will find them priced at +110 on the moneyline for this contest. One thing that has plagued the Magic throughout the season has been their lack of outside shooting. Orlando is sound down low with forwards Paolo Banchereo and Franz Wagner; however, their guards have not produced, with Jalen Suggs and Gary Harris combining for 24 points in Game 2. Suggs left the game with an injury, which will complicate things further for the Magic on offense. Cleveland has plenty of shooting as well as Allen to help neutralize the Magic around the paint. Neither team boasts a high-ranking offense, as the Cavs rank 20th in ppg, and the Magic rank 24th, respectively. The total of this game is set at 199, the lowest on the boards for the Thursday slate. The Cavs have performed better than expected and have a young Orlando team with their backs against the wall. While heading home should help boost the morale of the Magic, Cleveland has the momentum, and Donovan Mitchell has played in a number of big playoff games. With the way Cleveland has played thus far, they are a live team to win this game outright; however, let’s look at points should this be a one-possession game down the stretch.

Jason Schlefsky’s Pick: Cleveland +2.5

Is Orlando the kind of the team that can pick itself up by the bootstraps, ultimately convincing themselves they can still win the series? If they are, more power to them, but the statistics suggest that anytime a team returns home down 2-0 in an NBA playoff series, going home for the summer is more a matter of when instead of if. The Magic know this. At best, this becomes a gentleman’s sweep. And since Cleveland is getting two points, it’s worth riding them for this game – and Game 4 and 5 (if necessary). The Magic aren’t stealing this series, so roll with the Cavs until they advance – starting with Game 3.

Aside from Game 3, it’s worth taking another look at the Cavs playoff outlook. As noted, the Cavaliers have looked better than expected relative to their performance in the regular season. Injuries certainly played a role in that, but momentum is key when it comes to the NBA postseason, especially in a relatively open Eastern Conference. The Boston Celtics just lost to the Miami Heat, Joel Embiid is hurt, the Milwaukee Bucks are discombobulated, and the remaining teams have their own flaws. While the Cavs have an outside shot at winning the East or NBA Finals, they could be worth a look with how they have played through their first two games. The Cavs are young and have talent, including Mitchell, Evan Mobley, Jarrett Allen, and Darius Garland. All of their players boast a combination of athleticism, shooting, and rebounding. Things have not always synced up, but perhaps a strong series against Orlando can help push them to another level. Anything can happen in the NBA Playoffs after all.

MLS Preview: FC Cincinnati @ Colorado Rapids (Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET)

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April did not begin as planned for Pat Noonan and his FC Cincinnati side. A draw with Charlotte in the last weekend of March was followed by two consecutive losses, 2-1 defeats at the hands of the Red Bulls and Montreal respectively. The stretch marked the first time Cincinnati had dropped two straight MLS regular season games since February of last season. Last season’s Supporter Shield winner has been one of the most consistently good teams in all of MLS, so the two-game skid was unusual to say the least.

But, perhaps expectedly, the ship was righted last weekend, as a win against Atlanta United was just what the doctor ordered. Despite losing the possession battle (41% to 59%), goals from Luca Orellano and Luciano Acosta – scores that came just two minutes apart – gave Cincinnati the much-needed victory.

Now sitting in third place in the MLS Eastern Conference with 15 points, Cincinnati will host the Colorado Rapids, who also have 15 points and hold the fourth slot in the West.

Colorado is an intriguing club, as their resurgence in 2024 has given the Rapids faithful a newfound hope. Last season, Colorado held the unwanted distinction of being the MLS’ worst team. Head coach Robin Fraser was relieved of his duties, making way for Chris Armas. As a player, Armas won an MLS Cup with the L.A. Galaxy in 1998 and was named to the MLS Best XI five times. Following his playing days, Armas held many coaching duties, including stints as an assistant with the Red Bulls, Manchester United and Leeds United. Clearly, Armas is no stranger to winning, and it appears his presence has had an immediate impact on the Rapids this season.

For an early season matchup that crosses conference lines, the FC Cincinnati-Colorado game provides an opportunity to gauge the status of both clubs. Certainly, Cincinnati is no stranger to the top of the standings, while the Rapids are trying to assert themselves as a new team that’s not to be overlooked in 2024.

Jorge Pare’s Pick: FC Cincinnati -145 

On paper, these two teams are about as evenly matched as the MLS can offer. Cincinnati holds a slight edge on total shots and shots on goal – 12.7 to 11.9 and 5.1 to 4.1 respectively – but in terms of goalkeeping, both teams are nearly identical statistically. And even though Cincinnati got back on track against Atlanta United last weekend, Colorado enters the game as the hotter of the two, having won two straight over San Jose and FC Dallas. In those two games, the Rapids blasted a total of five goals. But is Colorado’s early season success real? Or is the Rapids resurgence a temporary biproduct of a positive change of scenery on the sidelines? There’s no doubt Colorado is in a better place, but it’s also a place that FC Cincinnati has held for quite some time. This feels like a game in which the better, more consistent team, will take care of business at home. Bet on an FC Cincinnati win, giving them three more points and keeping Noonan’s club atop the Eastern Conference standings.