Cavaliers feel better prepared for playoff stage after ’23 flop, face Magic in first-round series


CLEVELAND (AP) — Cavaliers center Jarrett Allen doesn’t regret the harsh, eye-popping review he gave of his postseason performance a year ago.

Looking back, he told the truth about himself — and the Cavs.

In the aftermath of Cleveland being pummeled and knocked out in the first round of last year’s playoffs by the much tougher New York Knicks, Allen admitted that he wasn’t ready for the stage or the spotlight.

“The lights were brighter than expected,” he said after the Knicks won the series 4-1.

The candid, headline-sparking comment was vintage Allen. And as the affable big man and his teammates prepared to face the Orlando Magic in this year’s opening round, he brushed off his assessment as idle chatter.

“I’ve said a lot worse stuff in my life,” he joked Thursday.

Allen’s oft-cited quote will either fade or grow depending on how the Cavs play in their No. 4 vs. No. 5 series against the youthful Magic, who make up for any lack of postseason experience with size and ascending star Paolo Banchero.

Game 1 is Saturday at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Game 2 is Monday.

The Cavs somehow overcame a multitude of injuries to win 48 games in the regular season. Now, they’re in an almost identical spot as last year’s playoffs — facing a defensive-minded team with nothing to lose.

The ‘24 Magic look a lot like the ’23 Knicks.

“They’re a young, scrappy team,” said Cavs All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell, slowed since the All-Star break by a left knee bruise. “They have a lot of energy. They’ve got a lot of guys who are really talented. A lot of people say they ‘overachieved.’ I don’t think so. You’ve got to give Mose (Orlando coach Jamahl Mosley) credit for what he’s done over there. They’re a really good team.”

The Cavs and Magic split their four games during the regular season, but Cleveland was missing some key pieces each time.

The lessons from last season’s postseason beatdown by the Knicks have stuck with the Cavs, who insist the painful experience not only hardened them but prepared the team for what lies ahead this spring.

There’s a lot hanging on these playoffs for Cleveland. Mitchell can sign a contract extension with the Cavs this summer, and it’s entirely possible his decision could be impacted on what happens over the next few weeks.

On a personal level, this postseason is a shot at redemption for Mitchell, who played poorly against the Knicks last year — by his standards — and has never advanced beyond the second round.

The lights wilted Cleveland a year ago. The Cavs, who added playoff-tested veterans Max Strus and Georges Niang and brought back Tristan Thompson, believe their better prepared to deal with them this time.

“As nasty as last year was, I think that definitely is something that helps for the guys that were here last year,” Mitchell said. “Obviously, with the guys we brought in, you can’t teach experience.”


In just his second NBA season, Banchero elevated himself among the game’s top players.

Just 21, he became the youngest player to lead his team in scoring, rebounds and assists, and the 2022 No. 1 overall pick showed an on-court maturity beyond his years.

“Extremely poised,” Cavs coach J.B. Bickerstaff said of the 6-foot-10 Banchero. “You don’t talk about it often with guys as young as him, but he knows his game. He came into the league like this is what I do and not searching for it like a lot of young guys have to do. That allowed him to be successful early, but then it gave him a higher baseline to build his talent on once he got more comfortable with the league.”

Banchero dropped 42 points on the Cavs in November. He was the driving force in the Magic making the playoffs for just the third time in 12 years.

“He’s special,” Mosley said. “The young man is special because of the way he just wants to win, finding ways to win, whatever that looks like.”


The series may cause a temporary strain in the relationship between Bickerstaff and Mosley, who are like brothers.

“We’ve been as close as friends can be for the past 20 years or so now,” Bickerstaff said. “I don’t think you can get any closer beyond family.”

The coaches and their families even spent this season’s All-Star break together vacationing in Turks and Caicos.

They’ll go from the same beach to opposite benches as Mosley, an assistant in Cleveland from 2010-14, tries to take the Magic another step in their development.

Bickerstaff could be coaching for his job after Cleveland’s first-round flameout in 2023 and raised expectations this season.

“We had a conversation and we both agreed this is the last time we’ll speak probably for the next two and a half, three weeks, and we’ll go out and try to kick each other’s butt,” Bickerstaff said.


The Magic were last in the league in 3-pointers (11 per game) and 24th in 3-point percentage (35.2). However, that doesn’t mean they can’t get hot.

Orlando made a team-record 25 3s on Jan. 3 against Sacramento.


AP Freelancer Dick Scanlon in Orlando contributed to this report.



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