Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Five Keys: Cavaliers vs. Nets

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor

Key: Giving Thanks

The Cavaliers will look to run their winning streak to six on Wednesday night when they welcome the Nets to The Q for the first time this year.

The Wine & Gold are coming off a blowout win over Detroit – christening Little Caesar’s Arena with a 116-88 drubbing of the Pistons for their fifth straight win. The Cavaliers showed a killer instinct in Motown that they hadn’t so far this season, leading the Pistons by 13 after one quarter, by 27 at half and by 39 after three – allowing the starters to take the fourth quarter off.

On Wednesday night, Tyronn Lue’s squad looks for a measure of revenge – and to drive Brooklyn further into the Lottery – as they host the scrappy Nets on Thanksgiving Eve. Brooklyn upset the Cavaliers, 112-107, back on October 25 at Barclays Center, throwing Cleveland into a four-game nosedive.

But even with injuries at the point, the Cavaliers are a much different squad than they were then. And they’ll look to make it eight straight against Brooklyn at The Q.

Key: Straight to the Point

As much as the Wine & Gold wanted to have to a strong performance on Monday night in the Motor City, there was one player who needed a strong performance: Jose Calderon.

With Isaiah Thomas still working his way back from a hip injury, Derrick Rose still on the shelf with a bad left ankle and Iman Shumpert nursing a sore right knee, the Cavaliers were down to the 13-year vet, who’d struggled all season to find a rhythm with his new squad.

Calderon answered by outplaying Reggie Jackson – finishing with 14 points – going 4-of-5 from the floor, including 2-of-2 from long-range and 4-for-4 from the stripe, adding four boards, a pair of assists and a steal.

The Nets are equally depleted at point guard. Jeremy Lin suffered a season-ending knee injury not long after the campaign begin and D’Angelo Russell is out indefinitely after undergoing knee surgery last week.

Both teams haven’t had a solid answer at the point, yet both are in the league’s top three in scoring. We could be in for another shootout tonight in Cleveland.

Key: Bench Mob

Despite winning the Eastern Conference over the past three years, the Cavaliers haven’t had the depth they possess this season. They’ve played about half the campaign without their two top point guards, are still one of the league’s top scoring teams and – after an early-November hiccup – have rattled off five straight wins.

Their bench has been a huge part of the success – averaging 39.8 points this season, good for 5th-highest in the league. Cleveland’s second unit has notched at least 40 points in five of their last six games – including a 44-point collective effort in Monday’s win over Detroit.

In the Wine & Gold’s October loss to the Nets, the bench combined for 53 points – including 22 points from Kyle Korver and 18 from Jeff Green.

The Nets can bring a pair of former Cavaliers – Joe Harris and Tyler Zeller – off the bench, but their top reserves is Columbus native Chris LeVert, who’s averaging 10.2 ppg in his second year out of Michigan.

Key: Crabbe-Fest

Like Jae Crowder, there was a Draft night moment when Allen Crabbe was actually a Cavalier – being tabbed with the 31st overall pick in 2013 before being immediately dealt to Portland for a pair of second rounders.

In his five years in the league, Crabbe has upped his scoring average in each – and he’s currently fourth on the Nets with a 12.3 ppg mark. Crabbe’s had some big games this season, including a 19-point effort off the bench in Brooklyn’s October 25 win over Cleveland and a 25-point performance in the Nets’ recent loss to Golden State, going 6-for-11 from long-range.

Crabbe has started each of the last seven games for Brooklyn and he’ll get the nod against J.R. Smith on Wednesday night.

Just when it looked like Swish had snapped out of his funk – averaging 16.7 points per over the first three games of the Cavs’ recent win streak – he slipped back out of rhythm – notching only one double-digit performance since then, going just 6-for-24 from beyond the arc over his last four outings.

The Cavaliers’ bench has given the team a lift, but they’ll need Smith at his best when money time rolls around in April, May and June.

Key: Facing Forward

The Nets haven’t seen a lot of consistency this year, but one player who’s been a steadying influence has been DeMarre Carroll – acquired this offseason in a deal with the Raptors.

The well-traveled 9th-year vet has started every game but one for Brooklyn this year and has notched double-digit scoring in all but three. Carroll’s top offensive performance this season was an 18-point night against the Wine & Gold in late October, going 7-for-16 from the floor and adding seven boards.

Carroll has had plenty of regular season and postseason battles with LeBron James and he’ll attempt to slow down the King again on Wednesday night. LeBron did most of his work early in Monday’s blowout over the Pistons – notching 16 of his 18 points in the first period.

In his only outing against Brooklyn this season, James notched his first triple-double of the year – going off for 29 points on 12-for-20 shooting, adding 10 boards, a game-high 13 assists and four blocked shots.

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