Cavaliers at Magic game preview
While the Cleveland Cavaliers are 15 games below .500, they remain alive in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Getting All-Star Kyrie Irving back could help their chances of sneaking in.
Irving may try to give it a go Wednesday night when the visiting Cavaliers seek a seventh consecutive win over the last-place Orlando Magic.
After missing two weeks with a strained left biceps tendon, Irving was cleared to resume full-contact practice and could return as soon as Wednesday. Averaging a team-leading 21.2 points, Irving’s status won’t be determined until after the pregame shootaround.
Cleveland (30-45) dropped its first three games without Irving before winning four of five. Dion Waiters led six Cavaliers in double figures with 19 points in Sunday’s 90-76 victory over Indiana, and Tristan Thompson added 12 to go with 16 rebounds.
"Winning really makes you believe in each other," forward Luol Deng said. "Guys are starting to realize that they can do it. There’s no magic to it. It’s really playing together and believing in each other, and I really think once we won a few in a row, we started to play better."
Cleveland is in 10th place in the East, three games in back of Atlanta for the eighth and final playoff berth. The Cavaliers visit the Hawks in a crucial matchup Friday.
"We’re still coming out with that never-say-die mentality and attitude and we’re just fighting as long as there’s season left," guard Jarrett Jack said. "We’re going to keep clawing at it. I think what was best for us, I know me personally, I stopped looking at the standings and just started focusing on what was in this locker room.
"Once we did that, it seemed like the brand of basketball we were playing became more consistent and we gave ourselves an opportunity to be in the situation we’re in now."
The Cavaliers lost 10 straight to the Magic before winning the last six, including all three meetings this season while allowing an average of 91.3 points. Irving scored a combined 53 while playing in two of those matchups.
Orlando (21-53) followed a nine-game skid with back-to-back wins over Portland and Charlotte before its struggles resumed in Sunday’s 98-93 loss to Toronto. The Magic erased a 21-point deficit but couldn’t keep up down the stretch.
"We’re kind of getting really known for digging ourselves a hole," rookie Victor Oladipo told the team’s official website. "It’s tough to always dig yourself out, but one thing going into the second half was knowing that we’ve done it before. We had all of the confidence in the world that we could come back and cut into the lead and get into the ball game. … It’s a learning lesson for us."
The Magic shot 55.1 percent for their third-highest mark this season, but went 10 of 14 from the foul line while the Raptors were 26 of 27.
Nikola Vucevic, averaging 22.7 points in the last three games, had 22 and 10 rebounds. Vucevic has scored at least 20 in three of his last five against the Cavaliers, though he’s been held to six in each of the other two.
Fellow big man Anderson Varejao won’t play for Cleveland due to a sprained shoulder suffered Sunday. He had 18 points and a career-high 25 boards in an 87-81 overtime win over Orlando on Jan. 2.