Magic-Cavs isn’t just a series anymore. It’s starting to feel like a rivalry

It’s about that time of year in a first-round playoff series. The Magic and Cavs have played each other eight times. They’ll meet at least two more after Saturday’s 112-89 victory at Kia Center drew the series even at 2.

They’re starting to tire of each other. In a good way that results in hard-nosed basketball.

“The competitiveness comes out [normally] as the series goes on,” said forward Franz Wagner, who scored 12 of his game-high 34 points in a 37-10 third quarter for Orlando. “For me that’s the best part of it.

“I like playing basketball and they just happen to be in my way. We have to do everything we can to win against them.”

It started with Wagner taunting Georges Niang to get a technical in the first half and looking back with a nod at Max Strus, who tried to chase him down in transition to stop a layup to no avail.

Wagner had run a toss action with Jonathan Isaac and had a switch with the slow-footed Niang. One spin move over his right shoulder later and Niang fell down on the bucket. Wagner pointed at him for the technical. To be fair to Niang, however, Wagner’s left foot stepped on top of his right to cause the spill.

Wagner didn’t miss the chance to rub salt into the wound.

“It’s natural,” said Magic center Wendell Carter, who had 11 points, including a pair of 3s that started Orlando’s 12-3 run to end the third quarter up 86-70. “When you play a certain team so many times, especially after the first two games where they dominated on the glass, offensively they were getting everything they wanted. They were chirping a little bit, too.”

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Those sequences pinpointed how vulnerable the Cavs become when Evan Mobley or Jarrett Allen sits and Niang steps in as the Magic take advantage.

The temperature rose with 7:08 left in the third quarter, with Jalen Suggs and Darius Garland receiving double techs for jawing with each other nose-to-nose after the Cavs were forced to call a timeout during a momentum shift.

“We know all those guys over there,” Suggs said. “We played them growing up. … It just gets chippy. That’s just what you want. That shows competitors when you can continue to see somebody, continue to play somebody and the tone never changes. The attitude never changes.

“You still want to go prove a point. That’s what a lot of these playoffs are about. It’s about who can withstand, who can maintain energy, their competitiveness, their will to win.”

That’s when Carter ignited his team with 3s.

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Niang tried to sell chest-to-chest contact from Carter as a flagrant foul that could’ve resulted in his ejection. He threw his head back, grabbing his face, and fell flat on his back. Upon review, game officials didn’t upgrade it and it remained a common foul on Carter.

Donovan Mitchell was called for an offensive foul shortly afterward from a collision with Suggs that left him hobbled briefly. And of course another incident was inevitable. Strus was assessed a Flagrant 1 when he grabbed Cole Anthony from behind while airborne in transition for a dunk midway through the fourth quarter.

Anthony didn’t want to exaggerate the effect of the foul to get Niang ejected.

“I don’t think it matters who it is. [Expletive] just want to win,” said Anthony. “With the competitive spirit it just comes out. We were maybe the ones that initiated it in the first two games but we came here, the shoe’s on the other foot. Dudes are frustrated. It’s a good series. There’s not been a single-digit win on either side, but these games have been competitive.”

And they’ll get more testy with Game 5 in Cleveland on Tuesday.


Despite the bad start in Cleveland, the Magic have accomplished one key goal: Slowing down Mitchell when it matters most.

The two-time All-NBA guard, who appears headed to a third selection this season, had 18 points in the first half Saturday with the Cavs up 60-51 at the half. He was held without a point in the second half as the Magic held them to just 29 total points, tying a franchise playoff record in for fewest points in the third and fourth quarters (1996 vs. Bulls).

Just as important in four games, he’s just 7-for-28 from 3 (25%).

“We know he’s the head of the snake,” said Paolo Banchero, who wasn’t much of a factor offensively (9 points) but shared defensive responsibilities containing Mitchell, including 1 vs. 1 and rotating to help others. “He’s probably the only guy [for Cleveland] that can go for 40 [points]. We want to make sure he can’t do that. We got great guards and guys who can guard him on the perimeter. As bigs our job is to play behind them and back them up if he does get downhill.”

Mitchell’s best scoring game, 30 points in a Game 3 blowout loss here Thursday, was his best performance from deep. But he’s never shot 50% or better (overall or from 3).

The Magic mix up who is assigned to him. Sometimes it’s Suggs. Other times it’s Gary Harris. And then there’s Franz Wagner, who at 6-8 has the length to bother his shots and the footwork to stay in front of Mitchell with the ball. Banchero and Carter may have to switch onto him as well.

The key is when he gets a ballscreen to go over it stay attached to his hip and run him inside the 3-point arc. And with the Magic’s superior length, they can both his shot with rear contests.

Mitchell shot 5-for-14 overall Saturday (0-for-4 in the second half).

Fultz factor

At 6-4, Markelle Fultz has a distinct size and strength edge on Garland and Caris LeVert.

While the knock on him is that he can’t spread the floor with his jumper, Fultz doesn’t have to against Cleveland. He bodied Garland out of the way for a putback. He made slice cuts to get to the paint to receive passes and pull up for short jumpers, catching LeVert — notorious for falling asleep when he’s off the ball and losing sight of his assignment.

Those weaknesses in Garland and LeVert play to Fultz’s strengths. In all, he shot 6 of 9 for 12 points in 19 minutes Saturday. He had 11 points on 4 of 6 shooting in 17 minutes in Orlando’s Game 3 victory.

Fultz only had 1 point in 19 total minutes in Games 1 and 2.

“It’s a best-of-three series and we’ve got two games in Cleveland,” Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “We’ve got some things that we need to correct.”

Solving the Fultz equation is likely one of them.