LeBron returns as Cavs look to continue dominance of Magic
The Cleveland Cavaliers elected to rest LeBron James this week with the playoffs approaching.
The Orlando Magic certainly wish they would have waited two more days.
With James back in the lineup, the visiting Cavaliers seek their 14th consecutive win over the Magic on Friday night in a season series that hasn’t been close.
Eastern Conference-leading Cleveland (48-19) beat Dallas 99-98 on Wednesday for its seventh win in nine games. James sat out with coach Tyronn Lue starting a plan to rejuvenate the superstar leading into the postseason.
The Cavs hold a slim lead over Toronto for the Eastern Conference’s top seed and close the final four weeks with a less challenging schedule. They play eight of their next 13 on the road, where they are 20-13.
The stretch starts with a visit to Orlando (29-38), where the Cavaliers have taken six straight.
The contrast in the series has been especially pronounced in the season’s first three matchups. After a 117-103 home victory Nov. 23, the Cavs routed the Magic 111-76 at Amway Center on Dec. 11 and 104-79 at home Jan. 2.
Cleveland held Orlando to 38.5 percent shooting in the final two wins, the December blowout providing its largest margin of victory this season.
James has won 14 in a row against the Magic, the first eight of which came with Miami. He’s shot 59.6 percent against them this season.
With James sitting, Kyrie Irving led the way against the Mavericks. He scored 33 points and helped thwart a Dallas rally with a steal with 2.9 seconds left.
The Cavs improved to 4-12 without James the last two seasons.
”Honestly, it was a personal challenge,” said Irving, who shot 35 percent while averaging 16.0 points in his previous two games. ”We know what the record is. I know I took it personally, and I have to lead the team whether he’s in or out.”
Kevin Love scored 23 points after averaging 12.9 in his previous seven games and added 18 rebounds, while Channing Frye went 3 of 5 from 3-point range and chipped in 14 off the bench.
Orlando’s hopes of making the postseason are slim, as it’s suffered five losses in seven games to fall further back in the race for the eighth and final playoff spot.
The Magic led 30-26 after one quarter at Charlotte on Wednesday but were outscored 35-13 in the second in a 107-99 loss, denying them their first winning streak since early February.
”You have to be able to put your foot down and somebody’s got to make a big basket for you or a big defensive play and kind of get a run going of your own," coach Scott Skiles said. "This is something we’ve really struggled with.”
Orlando – winner of three of its last four home games – shot 47.8 percent in the opening quarter but 40.0 over the final three. The Magic have averaged 100.1 points and 44.3 percent shooting their last seven games while allowing 109.4 and 46.9.