Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Five Keys: Cavaliers vs. Knicks

David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele
Cavs.com Managing Editor

Key: Home Cookin'

Even though it’s extremely early, the Cavaliers return to The Q for tonight’s matchup with New York licking their wounds a bit.

Cleveland dropped both games of a two-game roadie and have lost three of their last four – and not to the league’s juggernauts. But Tyronn Lue warned that the beginning of the season would be a process, and right now the Wine & Gold are working their way through the difficult part of it.

On Saturday night, the Pelicans got 112 of their 123 points from four starters and – like last Saturday night’s home loss to Orlando – the Cavaliers never seemed to have their game in gear. Last night in the Big Easy, the Cavs committed 17 turnovers that led to 25 points, got a combined eight points from their starting backcourt and their starters essentially sat the fourth quarter.

Cleveland will look to right the ship against a Knicks team that finally got its first win of the season on Friday night after dropping their first three. That win came against their crosstown rival Nets – who were averaging 120 points per contest (including a 112-point win over Cleveland) coming in and were held to 86 points in that one.

The Cavaliers haven’t lost to the Knicks since dropping the first game of LeBron’s return and will look to extend their run to 11 straight on Sunday.

Key: Q Debut

The Cavs have had other problems during their recent struggles, but not having Derrick Rose is a good place to start.

Rose suffered a left ankle sprain late in Cleveland’s second game, and second win, of the season. He hasn’t played since and the Wine & Gold have proceeded to drop three of four. Early indications were that he’d be able to go on Saturday in New Orleans, but the ankle acted up and his late scratch gave Iman Shumpert the spot-start.

Coach Lue will decide if Rose is able to go against the team he spent an uneventful season with closer to game time. The former MVP had been off to a good start this season – averaging 13.0 points through the first two games.

Former Cavalier, Jarrett Jack got the start last game for New York, but the Knicks are more focused on their prized rookie, Frank Ntilikina, who saw the first real action of his NBA career in Friday’s win over Brooklyn – finishing with nine points and five assists in 23 minutes off the bench.

Key: Unicorn Sighting

If the Knicks hit a home run on Ntilikina like they did on third-year big man, Kristaps Porzingis, they might just turn things around in the Big Apple.

Porzingis’ ascension looks like it’s only continued into year three – with the Latvian import leading the Knicks with a 26.5 ppg average – dropping at least 30 points in three of his first four games this season, with a 3-for-14 stinker against the Celtics as his only blemish.

In Friday night’s three-touchdown win over the Nets, Porzingis went off for 30 points, going 13-fior-24 from the floor to go with nine boards and three blocks.

But the 22-year-old has never had an easy time against the Wine & Gold – who’ve held him completely in check over eight meetings. Last year, Porzingis averaged just 11.3 points in four matchups – including a combined 7-for-20 performance over the last two Cleveland wins.

Kevin Love, who’ll primarily square off with New York’s star forward, banged knees with Anthony Davis in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s loss in New Orleans and missed the rest of the contest. But he said postgame he’d be ready to go.

Love is off to another All-Star-type season – doubling-up in five of his first six games – including a 26-point, 11-rebound performance against the Pelicans.

Key: Looking for 11

With or without the King, the Wine & Gold can’t seem to get it together in the Big Easy – having dropped seven straight in New Orleans, including Saturday’s loss.

James, finally back at the 3 last night – after starting the previous two games at the point and the two before that at the 4 – was solid in three quarters of work, finishing with 18 points and eight assists, going 6-of-11 from the floor.

Number 23 was definitely in a much better mindframe after last night’s defeat than he was after a loss in New Orleans one year ago, but he still realizes that Cleveland needs to right the ship.

LeBron – now the Cavaliers all-time games-played leader – has dominated the Knicks since his return, going 10-1 against New York, averaging an even 23.0 points per. In four wins over Jeff Hornacek’s squad last season, LeBron shot 64 percent from the floor while averaging 11.5 assists.

The Knicks will line up Tim Hardaway Jr. across from James on Sunday night, but they’ll have to use a committee to keep the King from making this streak go to 11.

Key: Bench Boss

When Dwyane Wade speaks, people listen. And when he requested that he be moved to the bench after starting the first three games of the season, turns out he was on to something.

Over the last two games – including last night’s 15-point performance – Wade is shooting 63 percent, averaging 13.0 points, 4.0 assists and 1.5 steals.

Cleveland’s bench had been excellent before slowing down last night in New Orleans – combining for at least 45 points in three straight outings. Last night, there wasn’t much production outside of Wade. Kyle Korver stayed hot, but didn’t get many opportunities, going 3-of-5 from the floor, 2-of-4 from long-range for eight points. Jae Crowder, in his first appearance off the bench, finished with five points and four boards.

The Knicks top reserves include sharpshooter Doug McDermott, forward Kyle O’Quinn – who led both teams with a dozen boards off the bench on Friday – veteran Michael Beasley and their prized rookie, Frank Ntilikina.

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