ORLANDO, Fla. (AP)—The Cleveland Cavaliers walked around their plush hotel room Friday, cracking jokes and making dinner plans. They mulled around in flip-flops and T-shirts, their casual attire matched only by their swagger.
There were no signs of a looming playoff elimination game.
The Cavs were so confident they would be back in Orlando to continue the Eastern Conference finals, they packed their bags before Game 5 and had a plane waiting on the tarmac. Cleveland coach Mike Brown even said Friday he had already booked his wife and kids tickets to Orlando before his team’s win made it official.
“We just thought there would be a Game 6,” Brown said.
“If there’s no Game 7, our season’s over,” Brown said. “So we’re here to win Game 6.”
Doing so won’t be easy.
The Cavaliers, with an NBA-best 66-win regular season, certainly are 0-4 this season in amped-up Amway Arena—a place the Magic start fast and finish. The Cavs have been able to build big leads in Cleveland and hold on late, a luxury they likely won’t get for Game 6 on Saturday night.
It is not only the biggest game in the Magic’s most memorable season since the Shaquille O’Neal(notes)-Penny Hardway days, it’s their best chance left to return to the NBA finals for the first time in 14 years.
The Magic don’t want to go back to Cleveland for a Game 7, although coach Stan Van Gundy brushed off any notion that Orlando’s last home game in the series feels like their facing elimination.
“No,” Van Gundy said. “I can count. I’m good at math. It’s Game 6.”
The odds don’t favor the Cavs.
Cleveland is trying to become just the ninth team since 1947 to rally and win a series after being down 3-1. But the Cavs have reason to feel they have a chance.
They have James.
The league MVP scored 21 points in the second half—17 in the fourth quarter—in Game 5 and had a hand in 31 straight Cleveland points. James finished with 37 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists to become the first player since Oscar Robertson in 1963 to have such numbers in a playoff game.
The performance already is being compared to James’ scintillating Game 5 effort in the conference finals against Detroit in 2007, when he scored 48 points, including his team’s last 25.
Cavaliers guard Delonte West(notes), who says his hip pointer injury in Game 5 left nothing more than a big bruise on his right side and he’ll be fine to play Friday, pointed out the Cavs have a game plan no one match.
“We give LeBron the ball and get out of the way,” West said.
Whether Cleveland can beat the Magic in a seven-game series with that strategy remains to be seen.
The often one-versus-five approach has been enough to keep the Cavs in this series. If not for James’ buzzer-beating 3-pointer in Game 2, the Cavs might already be on summer vacation.
James’ struggling teammates have given him little support. Even with Mo Williams(notes) and Zydrunas Ilgauskas(notes) having one of their best games of the series Thursday, it was James who rescued the Cavs from a fourth-quarter deficit.
They just spread the floor and let James go to work.
“For anybody, that could be a load,” Brown said. “But that’s what makes him great. He has the capability of coming through with that. And the more we can stay from that, the better. If we only have to go to that a couple of possessions, then great.”
The Magic are still plenty confident themselves.
They have given Cleveland all sorts of matchup problems—height, depth, speed, size and shooting range. In almost every facet, Orlando has the advantage.
The Magic have also twice ended series on the road this postseason, winning a Game 6 in Philadelphia and a Game 7 in Boston. Now safe at home, they have a chance to do something the franchise hasn’t done since 1995.
“We believe we can win a championship,” center Dwight Howard(notes) said. “People used to laugh at me when I’d say that. But it’s right there for us. We have a chance to take the next step Saturday night.”