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Three Keys: Cavaliers at Grizzlies

Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Key: Bear Down

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On Thursday night, the Cavaliers continue their prolonged roadie, playing the second half of a back-to-back against the equally shorthanded Grizzlies in Memphis.

J.B. Bickerstaff’s banged-up squad plays game five of their six-game trip after dropping two straight in Orlando – including last night’s lopsided loss, with the Magic taking a six-point lead before half, extending it to 23 early in the fourth, and hung on down the stretch.

The Cavaliers got rookie Isaac Okoro back after missing the previous five contests, but continued without Kevin Love, Matthew Dellavedova, Dylan Windler, Kevin Porter Jr. and learned yesterday that Dante Exum could miss the next 6-8 weeks with a calf injury and Darius Garland, possibly a week nursing a right shoulder sprain.

The injury bug has decimated the Grizzlies just as badly, if not worse. The reigning Rookie of the Year, Ja Morant, went down three games into the season with and ankle injury after a scorching start and tonight Memphis will also be without Jaren Jackson Jr. and Justise Winslow.

The Grizz are coming off a two-game sweep of their own – with the Lakers rolling into the GrindHouse to take two straight, including Tuesday’s 94-92 heartbreaker.

Key: Middle Management

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In of one of those trades in which both sides come out completely happy, the Grizzlies and Jonas Valanciunas have gone on to a very happy marriage, while the Raptors can always say that Marc Gasol helped deliver them the title.

After averaging a double-double for Memphis last year, the 5th overall pick back in 2011 is back at it again this year – averaging 14.7 points and a team-best 11.6 boards per. And he’s doubled-up in each of Memphis’ first eight games this year, including Tuesday night’s loss to L.A. – finishing with 13 points and 11 boards despite struggling from the floor, going just 4-of-13.

No Cavalier in team history had doubled-up in each of the season’s first seven games before Andre Drummond, and he upped that to eight last night in Orlando – bouncing back from a sluggish shooting night of his own to finish with 19 points on 9-for-16 shooting, adding a game-high 15 boards in the loss.

The duo has squared off plenty over the years, including last February in one of Drummond’s last games as a Piston – tallying 25 points, 13 boards and four assists to Valanciunas’ 26, 17, and 2.

Key: Backcourt Battle

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Since drafting him as a 19-year-old out of Alabama with the No. 8 pick, Collin Sexton has been one constant in the NBA’s ever-changing universe.

On Wednesday night, playing the 155th straight game to start his NBA career, the Young Bull notched his 13th straight 20-plus scoring game dating back to last season – finishing with 21 points on 8-for-20 shooting, just the second game this season that he’s shot under 50 percent from the floor.

So far this season, Sexton is the only player in the NBA averaging at least 25 points per while shooting at least 50 percent from the floor (.530) and from long-distance (.516) – and he’s also pretty good at the stripe (.829).

With Ja Morant on the shelf, fourth-year man Dillon Brooks has had to pick up some of the scoring slack for the 2-5 Grizzlies.

The 45th overall pick out of Oregon in 2017 made a big scoring leap last year and is off to a similar start this season – averaging 16.9ppg through the first eight, including 20-plus points in two of the first three games of the season.

Brooks led the Grizzlies in their most recent win over Cleveland – a 26-point effort on 9-of-16 shooting last January at the GrindHouse.

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