The Orlando Magic’s top mission tonight against the Cleveland Cavaliers: slowing down rookie point guard Kyrie Irving.
Irving has averaged 23.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 7.6 assists in his last five games, and he's also shot 40.0 percent from 3-point range during that span.
Stan Van Gundy effusively praised Irving when the teams met Feb. 3, and Van Gundy took the same stance after the Magic completed their shootaround today at Amway Center.
“I said this the last time we played ’em: This guy’s a great player, and what’s amazing is you don’t feel like when you’re watching him that you’re watching a great young player,” Van Gundy said. “It looks like you’re watching a great veteran player: the plays he makes, the demeanor he has on the floor, the way he interacts with his teammates, his decision-making, everything.”
Then, Van Gundy said this: “[When] we play against him, I feel the same way, exactly the same way, I feel as when we’re playing Chris Paul or somebody like that. I don’t feel any less trepidation playing him. This guy’s fantastic.”
All that said, the Cavaliers have lost four of their last five games.
Wafer could be inactive againVan Gundy said all of his players are healthy and available for tonight.
That includes Von Wafer, but Wafer could be inactive for the third consecutive game.
Wafer is behind fellow wings Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu, J.J. Redick and Quentin Richardson on the depth chart.
“It’s not a problem on his part,” Van Gundy said, referring to Wafer. “I just don’t have him in my rotation ahead of those guys. I think those guys are more experienced guys. I think those guys make fewer mistakes at both ends.
“I think Von is maybe the best individual scorer we have on the perimeter, and if games like Chicago become a habit, then I think we have to look seriously about inserting Von in there to play more. I like what Von has done. I like his approach in practice. I like the fact that he’s trying to get better. I like the fact that he’s keeping himself ready.”
Right now, in many cases, Van Gundy also has rookie DeAndre Liggins ahead of Wafer, too. Liggins is a more hard-nosed defender than Wafer, and Van Gundy also likes how Liggins moves the ball and makes plays off the dribble.
• If the season had ended last night, the Magic would be seeded third in the East and face the sixth-seeded Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the playoffs. But right now, the Boston Celtics trail the Hawks by only 1½ games. The Magic are 0-2 against the Celtics this season. “I know what they’re thinking on that side,” former Celtic Glen Davis said, referring to the Boston roster. “They’re probably licking their chops. But, hey, we’re a team that can play. We know we can play. We know we can beat them.”
• Tonight’s referees will be Monty McCutchen, Mark Ayotte and Eli Roe.
Follow Josh Robbins on Twitter at @JoshuaBRobbins and e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Subscribe to our Orlando Magic newsletter at OrlandoSentinel.com/joinus.
Stan Van Gundy praises Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving | Video
Cleveland's Kyrie Irving is the NBA's leading Rookie of the Year candidate (Chris Chambers, Getty Images)