ORLANDO, Fla. – The push for the playoffs has lit a fire under the Cleveland Cavaliers, even if it might be a little too late.
Guard Dion Waiters scored a game-high 26 points and the Cavs kept their slim playoff hopes alive with a dominating performance Wednesday night, pounding the Orlando Magic 119-98 at the Amway Center.
“We’re still in the hunt. We still have a chance, and we have to take advantage of that,” Waiters said. “We can still control our own destiny by trying to win every game. Right now, we’re really locked it, and it shows.”
The Cavs (31-45) have won five of their last six games. They are chasing the Atlanta Hawks (32-42) and New York Knicks (33-43) for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Cavs have just seven games remaining and play Friday night in Atlanta.
“I guess you could say this next one (in Atlanta) is the biggest game of the year up to this point,” said center Spencer Hawes, who had 20 points, eight rebounds and five assists Wednesday. “It’s not completely in our own hands, but we can control how we play.”
Forward Tristan Thompson had 20 points and a game-high 11 rebounds. Reserve guard Jarrett Jack had 13 points.
All-Star guard Kyrie Irving had 17 points, eight assists and six rebounds in 29 minutes, marking his return after an eight-game absence with a strained left biceps muscle. He showed few signs of rust while hitting seven of his eight shots and committing four turnovers.
“We’ve got a big-time game coming up,” Irving said. “It’s good to be back. I just wanted to fit in, and try to make my teammates better. It’ll be fun now coming into these late-season game, and for the first time, they will mean something.”
The Magic were led by rookie guard Victor Oladipo, who had 16 points in a reserve role. Forward Maurice Harkless had 10 points. He was the only Magic starter to reach double figures. Reserve guard Doron Lamb had 14 points. Forward Tobias Harris had 11 points and seven rebounds. Guard E’Twaun Moore had 10 points.
With the Magic offering little resistance defensively, the Cavs hit 45 of 78 field goal attempts (57.7 percent).
The Cavs led 94-68 going into the fourth quarter. By then, Thompson, Hawes and Waiters already had reached the 20-point mark.
The Magic never got closer than 17 points in the third quarter and did not get within 20 in the fourth until the final two minutes when they cut the deficit to 115-98.
“We had a lot of good performances tonight. It was fun to watch,” said Cavs coach Mike Brown. “They are all big for us now the way we dug ourselves a hole early. We just have to keep winning to give ourselves a chance.”
The Cavs led 70-47 at intermission, scoring with ease. It marked the highest-scoring first half this season for Cleveland and the most points given up in a half for the Magic.
Hawes hit four of five from 3-point range in the first half when he had 18 points to lead all scorers. The Cavs also shot 60.5 percent in those first two periods. Irving had 13 points and five assists in the first half, committing only one early turnover.
The Magic emptied their bench early and 10 players scored in the first half. But they also combined for 11 turnovers.
“You have to give the Cavs credit,” said Magic coach Jacque Vaughn. “They were intent coming into this game, aggressive all night. The way the Cavs were playing, it just wasn’t a good night for us.”
NOTES: Cavaliers G Kyrie Irving returned Wednesday after missing eight games with a strained left biceps. The Cavs were 4-4 in his absence, but they had won four of the last five. They are 5-6 this season in games that Irving did not play. “Having him on the floor is always a positive for us,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said before the game. “It doesn’t matter who we are playing.” The Cavs also were without F Anderson Varejao because of a shoulder strain sustained Sunday. He had 39 rebounds combined in the two earlier victories over the Magic. … When Magic PG Jameer Nelson hit a 3-pointer in the first quarter on Wednesday night, it extended Orlando’s streak to 566 consecutive games with at least one 3-point basket. … Magic C Nikola Vucevic scored at least 20 points in the previous three games, a first for him this season. … The Magic and Cavs had identical 10-21 records on Jan. 1. The Cavs have gone 11-11 on the road since Jan. 1 and the Magic went 1-23. … The Magic have lost 34 consecutive games when they have been outrebounded.
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