Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Five Keys: Cavaliers vs. Pistons

Chris Schwegler/NBAE/Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele
Cavs.com Managing Editor

Key: Wrapping Up the Homestand

After falling to the Nuggets on Saturday night at The Q, the Wine & Gold now look to salvage their five-game homestand when they host the Pistons on Monday night.

In Saturday’s loss, Denver drilled 19 three-pointers while shooting 55 percent from the floor, 54 percent from long-distance and 87 percent from the stripe. It was not the Cavaliers’ finest defensive effort, and things get even more difficult on Monday – taking on an All-Star frontcourt of Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond while still without the services of Kevin Love (who injured his left hand in the last meeting between these two), Jeff Green (sore lower back) and Tristan Thompson (who sprained his right ankle against Denver and is slated to miss multiple games).

The Pistons haven’t exactly been world beaters since making the Griffin trade – dropping eight of 10 after winning the first three games following the deal.

The Cavs have taken two of three against Detroit this season and have won each of their last three home games against the Pistons by 17.0 points per – holding Stan Van’s squad to 37 percent shooting over that span.

With the longest road trip of the season looming, the Wine & Gold would love to get some momentum going on Monday night at The Q.

Key: Tall Order

Tristan Thompson has been one of the most dependable players in the Association over the course of his seven-year career, but he’s had a difficult season in 2017-18 – missing 19 games with a calf strain earlier and now facing another layoff after spraining his right ankle on Saturday night.

With just 20 games to play in the regular season, the timing is never good – especially with Kevin Love and Jeff Green also on the shelf – but Thompson’s injury makes things extremely difficult on Monday night.

Andre Drummond dominated the Cavaliers frontcourt in the last meeting – finishing with 21 points, 22 boards, seven assists, three steals and three blocked shots. The two-time All-Star is the NBA’s current leader on the boards (15.8 rpg) and the offensive boards (5.2) and is third on the defensive glass (10.6).

With Thompson out, the Cavaliers will more than likely turn to Larry Nance Jr., who threw down what might’ve been the dunk of the year on Saturday night – flushing a one-handed baseline jam over Denver’s Mason Plumlee. Nance notched double-figure scoring in his third straight game, finishing with 14 points and eight rebounds off the bench – going 6-of-10 from the floor.

He’ll have a full day at the office when Drummond and the Pistons roll in on Monday.

Key: Reign Man

LeBron James has kept the hammer down all season long, playing in all 62 games and posting one of the finest campaigns of his future Hall of Fame career at age 33.

The King notched his 13th triple-double of the season (68th of his career) in Saturday’s loss to Denver – leading the Wine & Gold with 25 points, 15 assists and 10 boards, going 8-of-19 from the floor and 8-of-11 from the stripe.

With 20 games to go, James has already tied his career-high for trifectas in a season. James, who also became the first Cavalier in franchise history to grab 6,000 boards, has had plenty of regular and postseason success against the Pistons – both historically and of late.

In his last two meetings against Detroit at The Q, the four-time MVP is averaging 20.5 points, 13.0 assists and 9.5 boards.

In his 76th career meeting against Detroit on Monday night, James will tangle primarily with five-time All-Star Blake Griffin, who’s topped the 20-point mark in exactly half of his 14 games since the trade, including a 31-point performance two nights ago in Miami.

Key: Second-Half Story

If there’s one player who’s embodied the roller-coaster ride that the current campaign has been, it’s JR Smith – who’s had an interesting week.

As the calendar turned to February, Swish got red-hot, averaging 14.1 points and shooting 52 percent from beyond the arc over a strong seven-game stretch. He then cooled off considerably – shooting 1-for-13 from deep and averaging 3.7 points over a dismal three-game span, followed by a one-game suspension last Thursday night against Philly.

Smith returned to the lineup on Saturday night, but didn’t score in the first half of the contest. In the second half, he was nearly unstoppable – going 7-for-12 from the floor and netting all 19 points after intermission, passing Danny Ferry for the franchise’s No. 7 spot for three-pointers made along the way.

On Monday night, Swish will square off against Reggie Bullock, who’s notched double-figure scoring in each of his last 10 outings – averaging 15.7 points per over that stretch. In Detroit’s most recent win over the Wine & Gold back on January 30, Bullock tormented Cleveland, finishing with 22 points on 9-for-15 shooting, including a 4-of-6 mark from beyond the arc.

Key: All Hands On Deck

With Thompson, Love and Green all on the shelf for Monday night’s meeting with Detroit, the Wine & Gold will need everything they can get from the second unit.

Jordan Clarkson, the league’s second-highest scoring reserve at 14.2 ppg, has notched double-figure scoring in seven of his first eight appearances with Cleveland, including Saturday night – tallying 11 points on 4-for-9 shooting, including 2-of-3 from deep, scoring his 4,000th career point along the way.

Rodney Hood hit a big shot in last Tuesday’s win over Brooklyn, but he’s struggled, especially from long-range, through the first four games of the current homestand – going just 1-for-11 from three-point range.

Kyle Korver was also good against Brooklyn, finishing with 18 points off the bench, but hasn’t quite been able to find his rhythm since the Deadline deals changed the second unit’s composition.

Larry Nance Jr. has been outstanding off the bench, but he’ll be pressed for duty if he is thrust into the starting lineup on Monday.

Whether Tyronn Lue gives his reserves more time or dips deeper into his bench for Monday’s matchup, the Cavaliers will need a little more from everybody in the final game of their longest homestand of the season.

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