ORLANDO, Fla. — The Orlando Magic dashed the Cleveland Cavaliers’ playoff hopes on Tuesday night.
Given what was at stake, with so few games remaining in the regular season, clinging to hopes of a season-ending miracle to make the top 6, the Cavs suffered their hardest loss ever. disappointing run of the season against the restless Magic, 120-115. Orlando entered the night having lost six straight games. Cleveland’s role in tournament play was sealed after Toronto beat Atlanta.
“There’s no forgetting in this league,” Cavs coach JB Bickerstaff said after the loss. “It’s every night, the stakes are on the line and the bare minimum we ask of our guys is to outplay the man in front of them. Tonight, time and time again, they outplayed us. They outplayed us. Give give them credit. But it’s disappointing that it’s the effort we made tonight.
The Cavs started hot, outscoring the Magic, 14-3, in the opening minutes. But they couldn’t bear it.
In a game that featured 13 lead changes and six draws, Orlando led by five going into the fourth quarter. He pushed that advantage to a high of 10 with less than seven minutes left. After the Cavs fought back, the lead went to 10 once again after four minutes. But Cleveland made one last push, led by All-Star point guard Darius Garland.
The team leader, who has talked about raising his level of play at this time of year, went 11-4. Lauri Markkanen had an open 3-pointer over the break that would have tied the game with around 48 seconds left. Only Markkanen missed and Ignas Brazdeikis, playing in place of the injured Franz Wagner who left the game after just nine minutes, gave Orlando a five-point lead on a backhand.
Garland scored or assisted on Cleveland’s first six shots and nine of 10 in the fourth quarter. He accounted for 22 of 29 points in the fourth, trying to save the Cavs from a crushing loss.
Instead, the Magic sealed the win at the free throw line, hitting three of four in the final 10 seconds.
“This Magic team, they never give up,” Bickerstaff said. “You watch the movie about them, regardless of the circumstances, they compete against the grain and they play the game together, regardless of the score. So we knew they were going to have their chance. How did we managed, what we supported, how we did what we did to be successful, it just wasn’t there. It’s something we clearly have to learn. We keep hoping to flip a switch. But every time we try to flip a switch, it bites our ass.
Garland finished with a game-high 27 points, including 13 in fourth. He added 10 assists and six rebounds. Markkanen added 25, going 6 of 12 to 3 points. Kevin Love added 17 points and 13 rebounds. Center Moses Brown also recorded a double-double, his third in the last four games. Brown had 10 points and 12 boards.
The Magic, which failed to reach the 90-point mark in the previous two games, shredded Cleveland’s weak defense throughout. They shot 50.5% from the field and 45.7% from outside the arc, reaching 16 3s.
“It wasn’t us. It wasn’t Cavaliers basketball,” Markkanen said. “We can’t wait for the fourth quarter to try to make a comeback or anything. I felt that the last five minutes, the intensity with which we played in defense, was kind of where it needed to be for the 48 minutes. Obviously a disappointing loss. More importantly, because we haven’t played to our standards that we have in defense and attack. Obviously, it was a big game for us.
“You can see in the locker room everyone feels the same way, everyone knows we should have won the game and we have a lot more to play for than them at the moment.”
Orlando center Mo Bamba, who started 5 of 5 from deep, had a team-high 21 points. Brazdeikis finished with 20. In all, eight players reached double figures, including five members of the Orlando bench. The Magic’s reserves outscored Cleveland’s, 66-37.
The Cavs, losers of seven of their last nine, have been locked in at least the play-in tournament for weeks – a battle between the numbers 7-10 starting April 12. But Tuesday’s confusing loss, combined with a sluggish end to the season, ensured that was their only path to the playoffs.
“There are 82 games in a season and it’s going to happen,” Bickerstaff said when asked about his level of concern. “We just picked the wrong time for this to happen.”
To go up
With his first field goal made on Tuesday night — a 14-foot jumper — Love passed Larry Nance Sr. for the lone possession for ninth place on Cleveland’s all-time scoring list.
The Cavs will have a few days off in Orlando before heading to Brooklyn for the final road game of the season against the Nets on Friday night. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
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