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Five Keys: Cavaliers at Magic

December 11, 2015
Tristan Thompson
Fernando Medina/NBAE/Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele Beat Writer

Key: Magic Kingdom

There’s no team in the NBA right now that the Wine and Gold have mastered more than the Magic – with Cleveland looking for their 12th straight win over Orlando on Friday night. (Although the all-time series stands at 48-48.)

The Cavaliers made it 11 consecutive wins with an offensive outburst back on November 23 at The Q – canning 18 three-pointers (one shy of the franchise record). Kevin Love had his best scoring game of the season, netting 20 of his 34 points in the second quarter of a 117-103 win. That margin of victory was right on target against the Magic – having topped them by an average of 14.1 points per during that 11-game run.

The Magic (12-10) fell to Phoenix to wrap up a West Coast junket at 3-2. Scott Skiles is slowly turning Orlando around – guiding them to a 9-6 month of November, their first winning month since 2012, and are 7-3 at the Amway Center this year.

Key: Captain Comeback

The Cavaliers have had some impressive comebacks already this season, but none more than Tuesday’s against Portland – bouncing back from an 18-point deficit to snap their three-game losing streak.

In that game, LeBron James scored double-digit points in the fourth quarter for the eighth time this season (and for the second consecutive game). There’s nobody in the NBA that does it better in the final period than James – currently the league’s top clutch scorer: averaging 8.9 points in the fourth quarter (18.5 over his last two). Over his last five games, LeBron is averaging 28.2 points while shooting 90 percent from the stripe.

Since rejoining the Wine and Gold, James’ scoring numbers against Orlando haven’t been eye-popping, but he’s been the model of efficiency – shooting 54 percent from the floor and averaging 11.2 assists per contest over the last four – including 13 helpers in each of the last two games.

On Friday night, he’ll be matched up with Tobias Harris – who poked the proverbial bear in a game in Orlando.

Key: Front and Center

In Tuesday’s win over the Blazers, the Wine and Gold went small in the second half to jumpstart the squad on both ends. But that strategy could prove difficult on Friday night when they go up against the Magic’s second-leading scorer and leading rebounder, Nikola Vucevic.

As the Magic have clawed their way back to respectability, the native Montenegrin has flown under the radar. But he’s one of only two players (along with Zach Randolph) to average 10+ boards per season over the past three. Vucevic, who’s already posted nine double-doubles this season, has had some monster games against the Cavaliers over the years – including a 22-point, 15-rebound outing last March in the Magic Kingdom and a 21-point, 21-rebound game two years ago at The Q.

For the Cavs, starting center Timofey Mozgov has struggled to find his form all season and found himself on the bench in the second stanza on Tuesday night. Mozgov – who hasn’t notched double-figures since November 17 – will need to be at his best on Friday night at the Amway Center.

Key: Whole Lotta Love

The man who assumed the center spot when Cleveland went small in the second half on Tuesday was Kevin Love – who finished with 18 points to bounce back from his worst outing of the season the previous Saturday in Miami.

Love was all but unstoppable in the season’s first meeting at The Q. Love has tallied at least 22 points in four of his last five meetings with Orlando and his 34-point outburst in November was his highest-scoring game as a Cavalier. In that contest, the two-time All-Star went 11-for-18 from the floor, including 6-of-9 from beyond the arc to go with eight boards, four assists and a block.

When Love gets a blow (or slides over to the 5) Tristan Thompson enters the fray -- and the league’s top rebounding reserve comes into the contest needing just five rebounds to pass Tyrone Hill and move into the franchise’s all-time Top 10.

The Magic will counter with one of Love’s old Western Conference foes – Channing Frye – as well as second-year big, Aaron Gordon, who’ll try to fight through a right ankle injury for Friday’s affair.

Key: Happy Returns

Who goes at shooting guard for the Wine and Gold on Friday night will be an interesting story to watch.

J.R. Smith, who’s under the weather, missed morning shootaround in the Sunshine State and he’s been ruled out by Coach Blatt. But tonight could mark the debut of Iman Shumpert, who’s been out through the first 21 games after undergoing right wrist surgery. Shump, who jumped into the starting spot in last year’s postseason, averaged 7.2 points, 3.8 boards and 1.3 steals in 38 regular season games with Cleveland last year after being acquired from the Knicks. But it’s not about numbers for Shumpert, who’s arguably the Cavaliers best perimeter defender.

Shumpert is “active” for tonight, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll start (or even see action). But he’s been practicing for a while and participated in morning shootaround at full speed.

Whoever starts at the 2 will take on Orlando’s leading scorer, Even Fournier, who’s notched double-figures 16 times and has six 20+-point games already this season. Either way, for the Cavaliers, this game is less about how Shump performs on Friday night and more about how the rotation will operate from this point forward.

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