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3 Cavaliers X-Factors start Game 6 against Orlando Magic

It's now or never for the Cleveland Cavaliers to redefine themselves in the NBA playoffs.

After a miserable first-round performance last season, the Cavaliers have yet to win a road game in the postseason under coach JB Bickerstaff. The long-time Cavs coach is apparently coaching for his job, and players are playing for a chance to stay beyond this offseason. A lot about the Cavs' future is riding on this playoff run, but their performance in Game 5 should be a positive sign of hope.

As the Cavaliers entered Game 5 with a 2-2 tie, they showed their determination to hold on in the final moments, ending with a game-winning block from young defensive star Evan Mobley. While Cleveland remained perfect in this series by winning at home, they have not picked up a win on the road. Instead, the Cavs were embarrassed with back-to-back losses to the Orlando Magic. With Game 6 in Orlando, the Cavaliers can't give the Magic a chance to maintain the momentum that begins in Game 7 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

To shorten Orlando's playoff run, the Cavaliers will need another team effort like they did in Game 5. They're still struggling to get much production from their bench, but their starting lineup and those surrounding them will have to answer the call when needed. The Cavs emphasized leadership and experience this past offseason. Now is the time for these steps to be recognized by the talent acquired.

Additionally, Cleveland needs its stars to build on the success of Game 5 and head into a decisive matchup with them an intensity and concentration as they showed in the first two games of the series. As the Magic fight to extend the season, the Cavs need to come out swinging and strike first. To achieve that, these three players will have to make a difference once again.

For all his talents and weaknesses, the best version of Darius Garland must take advantage of early opportunities and get going quickly. Garland showed flashes of brilliance that earned him a max extension with the Cavs and an All-Star appearance in the 2021-22 season, but he never found a rhythm throughout the regular season after injuries and personal issues arose.

In Game 5, Garland pulled out all the stops and reminded the audience why he could usher in the next era of Cavs basketball. He scored 23 points and five assists in the heartbreaking one-point win. While Garland's late turnovers cost the Cavaliers a number of close games earlier in the year, he channeled the best version of himself, created for others and pushed the Magic defense to its limits. DG appeared to have sealed the deal after firing an inside pass to Mobley, who was lurking at the dunker spot.

Garland scored 17 of his 23 points in the first quarter, forcing Orlando's defense to cover him closely and deny him the ball for the rest of the game. Luckily, the Cavaliers were able to easily shift their offense to Donovan Mitchell and Max Strus. Their depth and versatility shined in the game, allowing Garland to come back and regain the momentum in the final minutes.

In Game 6, the Cavs need to put the ball in Garland's hands early and let him set the tone. Mitchell's lingering knee injuries prevented him from being as athletic and explosive as they had hoped in this series, and Garland's performance in Game 5 will likely put the Magic defense in a new lineup heading into the night. If the Cavaliers can get Garland a few points early, Orlando will have to stay close and allow Mitchell and Co. to clear the field again.

Anna Harden

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