Five Keys: Cavaliers vs. Nets

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Key: Cutting Down the Nets

For a team that’s exactly 30 games over .500, the Wine and Gold can’t seem to get on a good roll with the playoffs rapidly approaching.

After Saturday night’s win in New York, the Cavaliers – sans LeBron James – got off to a great start on Monday night against Houston – running out to a 20-point lead and holding a 13-point edge heading to the fourth quarter. But James Harden and the Rockets blew past the Cavs in the fourth quarter – while holding them to their worst shooting night since Christmas.

That loss, combined with Toronto’s victory over Atlanta last night, keeps the Cavaliers two games ahead the Raptors for the East’s top spot with eight games to go for each team.

The Cavaliers would love to get some revenge against a Nets team that handed them a surprising loss last Thursday night in Brooklyn. Cleveland is still 2-1 against the Nets this season and has won the last five matchups at The Q – winning by almost 13 points per. The Nets come to The Q having dropped two straight and five of seven.

With the second half of a back-to-back looming on Friday night in Atlanta, the Wine and Gold would love to polish off a 21-win Nets team that’s limping to the finish line.

Key: Beast of the East

On Monday night, the Cavaliers were looking to buck the trend of poor performances without LeBron James in the lineup. And for the first three quarters, they’d done exactly that. Instead, they fell to 1-3 this season without the four-time MVP with Monday night’s loss – and will look to bounce back with the King tonight against Brooklyn.

Despite the team shooting just 44 percent from the floor in last Thursday’s loss to the Nets, James had his best night from the field this season – going 13-for-16 to finish with 30 points, adding six boards and five assists. Over his past four games, LeBron is averaging 29.0 points on 56 percent shooting to go with 8.5 rebounds and 8.8 assists – earning him his NBA-record 52nd nod as Eastern Conference Player of the Week.

And as he always seems to, the 12-time All-Star comes into the contest ready to make more history – needing only four points to pass Dominique Wilkins for 12th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.

LeBron will match up with impressive Nets sophomore Bojan Bogdanovic, who’s already put up a 44-point outing this season and is averaging 17.1 points per contest in the 14 games since being moved to the starting small forward spot.

Key: Feeling the Love

The main thing the Cavaliers are seeking over the season’s final three weeks is a nice rhythm heading into the postseason. And despite Cleveland’s outstanding overall record, they’ve dropped three of their last six, including last week’s perplexing loss in Brooklyn.

One player who seems to be getting closer to his playoff form is Kevin Love – who, despite mixing a pair of 5-for-14 games in the set – has notched four straight double-doubles, averaging 19.0 points and 11.3 rebounds over that stretch.

In 14 career games against the Nets, Love is averaging 15.4 points and 11.4 rebounds – including a 26-point performance the last time Brooklyn came to The Q – going 8-of-14 from the floor, including 6-of-11 from beyond the arc.

Underrated Brooklyn big, Thaddeus Young, sat out the Nets’ previous game against Orlando – (one in which Brooklyn surrendered 139 points) – but he should be back in the lineup tonight in Cleveland. Despite a woeful season for the squad, Young has been his usual steady self – netting 28 double-doubles on the season, including a 16-point, 12-rebound effort in Brooklyn’s last visit to The Q.

Key: Big Man Battle

With Brook Lopez sitting for the Nets on Thursday, it’s uncertain if Coach Tyronn Lue will with go Timofey Mozgov as his starter or not. Either way, Tristan Thompson is likely to see most of the action.

Mozgov will look to get back on track as the Russian big man has gone just 2-for-6 from the floor over his last two outings, totaling just 11 boards in the process.

Thompson, who broke Jim Chones’ consecutive games streak at 362, bounced back from a pair of rough outings to double-up with 16 points and 10 boards against Houston.

The Nets have five former Cavaliers on their roster – Wayne Ellington, former first-rounder Sergey Karasev, Jarrett Jack, Donald Sloan and Henry Sims. The last name on that list might get his first start for Brooklyn, with the Nets resting Lopez. The journeyman big logged 21 minutes in Brooklyn’s blowout loss in Orlando and was actually pretty solid in 16 minutes off the bench against the Wine and Gold last Thursday.

Key: From Way Downtown ... Bang!

The Cavaliers have asserted themselves – at least over the season’s second half – as one of the top three-point shooting squads in the league – and they’re on pace for a record-setting month – needing just three triples to surpass the team record (set last March) of 184 treys.

This month, the Wine and Gold are averaging 12.1 three-pointers per game, good for 2nd in the NBA, and have drilled double-digit threes in a franchise-best 12 straight games – needing four more games to tie Golden State for the longest streak in NBA history. The Cavaliers have three of the Eastern Conference’s top 15 long-distance marksmen – Matthew Dellavedova (.423), Channing Frye (.396) and J.R. Smith (390).

And although Smith ranks third on that list, he’s the stir that straws the drink from long-distance for Cleveland – drilling 178 treys so far this season – 15 shy of the Cavaliers’ all-time single season mark, set by Wesley Person back in 1997-98.

The Nets have been very good themselves from deep over the season’s second half. In 26 games since February 1, no team in the league has shot the three-ball better than Brooklyn (.406) – which also leads the league in three-point percentage in wins, with the Nets shooting 44 percent from long-range in their 21 wins this season.