Cavs’ first-round playoff matchup is set

CLEVELAND — Bring on the Orlando Magic.

After losing their regular-season finale to the Charlotte Hornets and finishing as the Eastern Conference’s fourth seed, the Cavs’ first-round playoff matchup is set. They will play the fifth-seeded Orlando Magic to open the 2024 NBA Playoffs — a result that was solidified shortly after the final buzzer sounded at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

“They’re big,” Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff said of the Magic. “Obviously, they’ve got great positional size all over the floor. They’ve got individuals who can create their own shot, put a ton of pressure on you, and they’re really sound defensively. If you allow them to play in the half court, they use their size defensively to keep everybody in front, crowd the paint and make it difficult.”

Going into the afternoon, the Cavs had already secured a playoff spot and homecourt advantage in the first round. They could’ve been the second, third or fourth seed depending on what happened in their matchup with Charlotte and two other games of consequence that tipped off at the same time.

For much of Sunday’s game with Charlotte, it seemed like Cleveland was destined for either No. 2 or 3, in firm control against the rebuilding Hornets and chaos transpiring across the conference.

But a miserable fourth quarter, with Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff choosing to empty the bench and give an extended opportunity to lesser-used players, cost the team a victory, a higher seed and the central division crown.

Meanwhile, the 47-win Magic topped the short-handed Bucks, who were playing without star Giannis Antetokounmpo. Once those two results occurred, nothing else mattered. Not New York beating Chicago in overtime. Not even Philadelphia pounding Brooklyn. Upstart Orlando claimed the fifth seed and set up a first-round showdown against the Cavs that will start either Saturday or Sunday.

The two teams — almost mirror images of one another — split the regular season series.

“They’re a young team that’s going to play hard every single night,” veteran Georges Niang said. “They do a lot of good things on the defensive side of the ball to make you adjust your offensive game plan. I think we need to go in there and impose our will and do the things that we do. Whether that’s playing fast or establishing our stars or our bigs early, I think there’s a way to exploit the things that they do on the defensive end.”