Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

KeyBank Five Keys: Cavaliers vs. Pistons

November 18, 2016
David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor

Key: First Round Rematch

On Wednesday night in Indiana, the shorthanded Cavaliers had their three-game win streak snapped – with the Pacers handing Cleveland just its second loss of the year.

J.R. Smith was still nursing a sprained ankle he suffered in last Friday night’s win and LeBron James sat out the second-half of a back-to-back. Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving each had big nights and the Cavaliers cut Indy’s 11-point lead to four in the fourth, but the Pacers pulled away for the win.

On Friday night, it’s the second straight Central Division matchup for the Wine and Gold – a First Round rematch with the Pistons, who Cleveland swept out of the postseason in four contentious contests.

Like the Pacers, the Pistons are off to a somewhat disappointing 6-6 start after beginning the season winning three of their first four. After thumping the Thunder on Monday night at The Palace, Stan Van Gundy’s squad fell on Wednesday night in New York.

Key: Don't Poke the Bear

The Cavaliers would love to lock up the top seed in the East, but the squad’s health as they head into the postseason is even more critical. With that in mind, Tyronn Lue gave LeBron James the second half of Cleveland’s midweek back-to-back off in Indy. The Cavaliers, who were 1-5 last season without LeBron in the lineup, dropped the 103-93 decision.

The four-time MVP will be ready to roll when Detroit comes to town on Friday night. James, who leads the Eastern Conference with 9.6 assists per game, has tallied at least 19 points, six rebounds and five assists in each of his 10 outings this season.

James has had some monster games against the Pistons in the past – most notably his superhuman performance back in 2007 – and averaged 22.8 points, 9.0 boards and 6.8 assists in the four-game Playoff set last spring.

LeBron will lock up with Detroit’s leading scorer, Tobias Harris, who’s coming off his second double-double of the season – a 19-point, 10-rebound performance against the Knicks on Wednesday. Harris and LeBron have had some interesting battles in the past, including a battle in Orlando in which James showed Harris the perils of poking the bear.

Key: Love Broker

One of the biggest Cavaliers storylines so far this season has been the rejuvenation of Kevin Love – who is having easily his best year as a Cavalier and one of the better starts of his prolific career.

But Love was outstanding all season long against Detroit last year – averaging 24.0 points and 7.3 boards in three regular season contests and 18.8 and 12.0 during the Playoffs, doubling-up in all four games.

The three-time All-Star was outstanding again on Wednesday night in Indy – netting his sixth straight double-double of the season, finishing with 27 points and 16 boards. He’s one of only two players in the league this year (along with Anthony Davis) averaging at least 20.0 points and 10.0 boards.

On Friday night, Love will match up with Marcus Morris, who notched double-figures in his first eight appearances this season but has struggled mightily over the past week – averaging only 8.8 points and 3.0 rebounds over his last four games.

Key: Middle Men

Often considered the best pure big man in the East, Andre Drummond comes to Cleveland having another monster season with Detroit – averaging 14.9 points and 13.8 boards this year.

Since 2013-14, Drummond has posted 10 games with 20 points and 20 boards, 30 games with at least 20 rebounds and 15 games of at least 10 offensive boards – all tops in the league in those categories.

In 19 career games against the Wine and Gold, as he does against most teams, Drummond is averaging a double-double, but he hasn’t had a truly dominating performance. And in the four-game First Round sweep last spring, the Cavs kept him almost completely in-check.

The Cavaliers will start Tristan Thompson against Drummond, but have Channing Frye in their back pocket in case they need to mitigate the Pistons’ interior attack. Frye struggled in Indiana, but averaged 21.0 points off the bench in the previous two contests. Tristan doubled-up in Cleveland’s win over Toronto and has grabbed at least 11 boards in each of his last three outings.

Key: Changing of the Guard

With Reggie Jackson still out with a left knee injury, the Pistons will turn to Ish Smith to run the show.

The seven-year pro from Wake Forest doesn’t have the explosive playmaking ability of Jackson, but he’s a solid sub – notching double-figures in each of his last four outings, including a 14-point, eight-assist outing in Detroit’s loss to New York two nights ago.

He’ll have his hands full on Friday night, taking on a red-hot Kyrie Irving, who’s notched at least 20 points in nine of Cleveland’s 11 games this season. In 2016-17, Irving’s averaging a team-high 23.9 ppg (good for 14th in the NBA). The three-time All-Star, who finished with 24 points on 10-for-20 shooting against Indiana, adding a team-high seven assists – was excellent against Detroit last season – averaging 27.5 points in the First Round Playoff matchup and 29.0 during the regular season.