NBA: Big Men in focus for Cavs and Magic matchup

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NBA: Big Men in focus for Cavs and Magic matchup


2009-11-12

In a rematch of last season's Eastern Conference finals, perhaps the most intrigue surrounds two players that weren't even a part of the series. Shaquille O'Neal and the Cleveland Cavaliers meet Vince Carter and the Orlando Magic on Wednesday night for the first time since the playoffs. Orlando may be getting slighted by Sportsbook.com oddsmakers, installed as just a 2-point favorite, despite the impressive 6-2 start. Bettors also seem to be siding with Cleveland, backing the Cavs at a 72% rate.

Cleveland (4-3, 3-4 ATS) was the top seed in the Eastern Conference last season, but was ousted in six games by Orlando (6-2, 5-3 ATS), which went on to fall in five games to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA finals. Much of the blame for that surprise exit was placed on the Cavaliers' inability to defend Dwight Howard, who averaged 25.8 points and 13 rebounds in the series.

Looking to take care of that problem, Cleveland traded for O'Neal in June and he insisted the Cavaliers would no longer need to double-team Howard. While coach Mike Brown wasn't committing to O'Neal's game plan, he was hoping for a better outcome.

"They're a very good, well-coached team that presented problems for us (last year)," he said. "Hopefully it will be different this year."

O'Neal, then with Phoenix, and Howard faced each other once last season. Howard had 19 points in Orlando's 111-99 home win on March 3, but he was held to only seven rebounds - his second-lowest total.

"He's young, agile and active," O'Neal said, "but nothing I haven't seen before."

Howard guided the Magic to NBA finals for the first time since 1994-95 when they were led by a younger and much more dominant O'Neal. While Howard may be surpassing Shaq's legacy in Orlando, O'Neal was less than complimentary of the Magic star over the summer. "I can't be impressed by something I invented," O'Neal said. "I mean, you look at what he is doing, I've been there and done that. Every street he is driving down in Orlando, I have been on that street. Every nightclub, every restaurant - I have been there and done that."

O'Neal has had some trouble fitting in with Cleveland's system, but the Cavaliers appear pleased with how it's working.

He played 19 minutes in a 100-91 victory over New York on Friday, finishing with seven points and four rebounds. Cleveland held a double-digit lead for most of that game, which may have contributed to his lack of playing time. This was the Cavs last contest and they are 8-3 ATS with three or more days off.

Reigning MVP LeBron James scored 33 points with eight rebounds and nine assists.

Despite the series loss to the Magic, James put up big numbers by averaging 38.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and eight assists. Including playoff games, however, the Cavaliers have lost six straight and eight of nine in Orlando.

After falling by 28 to Oklahoma City on Sunday, the Magic bounced back with a 93-81 victory at Charlotte on Tuesday as four-point road favorites. That raised Orlando's recent November spread record to 27-11. Howard finished with 15 points, 10 rebounds and six assists while Carter made a surprise return from a sore left ankle to finish with 15 points off the bench.

Carter - Orlando's big offseason acquisition - had missed four of the previous five games and didn't think he'd be able to play after not participating in the morning's shootaround. He was feeling better later in the day, however, and asked if he could come off the bench for only the eighth time in 781 career games.

"I got here and I was doing the (scouting) board and Vince came in and said he was going to give it a shot," coach Stan Van Gundy said. "I was totally surprised."

What isn't surprising to NBA bettors is Orlando's dominance of Cleveland. The Magic are 9-4 and 11-2 ATS the last few years, which includes 6-1 SU and ATS record at Amway Arena. Sportsbook.com has Orlando as two-point favorites with 191 total.

Cleveland is 1-5-1 ATS after their last seven wins and 8-2 UNDER on the road. Orlando can clamp down on defense and is 35-15-1 ATS when their opponent scores 100 points or more in their previous game. The Magic are 3-0 OVER in downtown Orlando this season and 6-2 OVER dating back to last season at home.

ESPN will have the monomachy between Shaq and Howard at 8 Eastern.

The StatFox Power Line says Orlando by 2, so perhaps Sportsbook has the line in perfect position.


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