Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

KeyBank Five Keys: Cavaliers at Blazers

January 11, 2017
David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor

Key: Snow Far From Home

On a snowy Wednesday night in Portland, the Cavaliers will try to get back on track after an ugly loss to the Jazz on Tuesday.

After taking the first two games of their six-game junket, the Wine and Gold stumbled (again) in Salt Lake City, a place where Cleveland hasn’t won since LeBron James’ return. Tuesday’s contest was how the Jazz do it – gritty defense, timely shooting and a healthy dose of Rudy Gobert as the Cavs shot just 37 percent from the floor and 29 percent from long-range while turning it over 18 times.

If the Cavaliers want to wash the memory of last night’s game out of their memory, they’ll need a better performance than last year’s, when the Blazers caught a Cleveland team spent from a Christmas Day loss to the Warriors and handed them a 29-point thumping.

The current Blazers are coming off a big victory on Tuesday night in L.A., but like the Cavaliers, had travel snafus and didn’t arrive until early in the morning. Terry Stotts’ squad has been up and down of late, trying to rebound from a brutal stretch in which they dropped 10 of 11.

The last time these two teams met – on November 23 at The Q – they combined for 262 points. After rolling in during the early AM, another one like that would be pretty incredible.

Key: Homecoming King

The Blazers are probably hoping that Kevin Love couldn’t sleep on the tarmac during last night’s weather delay after what he did against them a month-and-a-half ago at The Q.

In that November 23 win, Love posted the most prolific scoring quarter in Cavaliers history and one of the greatest in league history – scoring 34 points in the first quarter. In that epic 12-minute performance, the three-time All-Star set the franchise record for points, three-pointers made (8) and field goals made (11) in a single period – finishing three points shy of Klay Thompson’s NBA record and finishing with 40 on the night.

On Wednesday he returns to his roots in the Pacific Northwest, where he played at nearby Lake Oswego.

Love – who struggled on 4-for-14 shooting on Tuesday night in Utah – will match up mainly with Al-Farouq Aminu. The seventh-year forward isn’t an offensive-minded player, but he can be a handful on the boards, as he was on Tuesday night in Tinseltown, leading both teams with a season-high 15 rebounds.

Key: Marquee Matchup

As many excellent point guard matchups as there are in the current NBA, the two battles that Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard wage every season is among the very best.

After dropping 32 points on the Nets and 27 more on the Suns to start the trip, Kyrie Irving hit a snag on Tuesday night in Utah – struggling from the floor on 5-for-18 shooting, notching his 27th 20-plus point game of the season, but certainly not the way he wanted to.

Irving notched 20 points much more efficiently in Cleveland’s November 23 win – going 8-for-15 from the floor with six assists. And if the Blazers remember Kevin Love’s outburst this year, they’ll definitely remember Kyrie’s gigantic 55-point outburst two seasons ago – going 11-for-19 from three-point range and canning the game-winner in a dramatic LeBron-less win in Cleveland.

Lillard was quiet that night – a rare occurrence against the Cavaliers. In eight career matchups against the Wine and Gold, Lillard averages 26.9 points per – topping the 30-point plateau on three occasions, including his big 40-point, 11-assist performance on November 23 in Cleveland.

Key: Home Improvement

Damian Lillard came into the league ready for stardom, but it took his backcourt mate, Canton’s own C.J. McCollum, a few years to find it. But Portland’s second-leading scorer has definitely done that – and he gives the Blazers one of the deadliest one-two punches in the league.

In his fourth year, the NBA’s reigning Most Improved Player has continued his ascent, and he comes into Wednesday’s matchup with the Cavs on a tear – averaging 30.4 points per over his last eight games. He has more 30-point games this season (9) than the rest of his career combined (and all eight of those were in 2015-16) and he and Lillard have had six games this season in which they each dropped 30-plus, going 5-1 in those contests.

If the Cavaliers have a shot at slowing McCollum down on Wednesday night, they have the right men for the job in DeAndre Liggins and Iman Shumpert – who’ve been very good on the defensive end, but have struggled from the floor of late.

Kyle Korver made his Cavaliers debut on Tuesday night in the hopes of remedying that situation, but he was understandably off his mark – finishing with just two points on 1-for-5 shooting.

Key: Long-Range Plans

Korver’s arrival bolsters a bench in need of a lift as the Cavaliers grind through a six-game, 12-day West Coast trip – especially considering Wednesday’s back-to-back after battling weather bugaboos. Korver’s resume says it all, and once he finds his rhythm will begin doing what he does best.

The Cavs bench – aside from Channing Frye – has struggled from the floor through the first few games of the trip, including last night’s loss in Utah when they combined to go just 5-for-21 from the floor. Iman Shumpert, Kay Felder and Richard Jefferson are looking to rediscover their rhythm, while Frye – who’s posted 17 games this season in double-figures – has remained relatively consistent.

The Big Three did most of the heavy lifting through the first two games of the trip, but they might need their bench to provide a lift on Wednesday.

The Blazers bench is led by Evan Turner, who dropped 17 points on the Cavaliers in their November 23 meeting. And the Cavaliers know exactly what Allen Crabbe can do after he came off the bench to lead both teams with 26 points in last year’s blowout loss in Portland.

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