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Three Keys: Cavaliers vs. Lakers

Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Key: The Champ Is Here

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The good thing about the NBA is that a team can wash a garbage loss out of their system in short order – maybe even the next day. The bad thing is that you might have to regroup from that loss against the heavyweight champ.

On Monday night, the Cavs try to bounce back after having their three-game win streak snapped in Boston. But doing so is a tall order – welcoming LeBron James and the World Champion Lakers to Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

The Wine & Gold would rather forget Sunday night’s showing in Boston. The Celtics – coming off a three-game losing streak – came out in a nasty mood, took a double-digit lead less than four minutes into the contest and blew things open not long after. If anything good came from Cleveland’s worst loss of the year, it’s that most of its starters didn’t log heavy minutes.

The Lakers stayed perfect in nine road games, starting out their seven-game roadie with wins over the Bucks and Bulls before rolling into Cleveland. On Saturday night, Frank Vogel’s squad – tied with their crosstown rivals for the league’s best mark at 13-4 – lefty the Windy City with a 101-90 decision that was nowhere near as close as its final score.

After tonight, the Cavaliers play five of their next seven on their home floor.

Key: Homecoming King

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It seems like forever ago that LeBron James came home to a hostile crowd in Cleveland back in his days with the Heatles. Tonight, the King – who promised to deliver a title to his hometown and did – will be rightfully welcomed with open arms.

After missing the Playoffs in his first frustrating season in Tinseltown, LeBron got some help last season. And that dynamic duo of James and Anthony Davis cruised to the 2020 Championship last year.

This year, he’s back on a mission – and although he’s averaging his lowest scoring mark (23.9ppg) since his rookie season in Cleveland, he still leads the Lakers in assists (after leading the league a season ago) and has already went off for 34 points against Milwaukee before doubling-up against Chicago to start the trip.

In 15 career contests against the Cavaliers, Numeral 23 is 14-1, averaging 28.1 points, 7.1 boards and 7.2 assists.

The question is: will J.B. Bickerstaff try to slow down James with Isaac Okoro, Cedi Osman, Larry Nance Jr. or Taurean Prince? And the answer is: yes. Cleveland’s coach will throw a little bit of everything at LeBron on Monday.

Rookie Isaac Okoro is learning a lesson in the NBA. There is no break. And in the span of a week, the lineup might include James Harden, Jaylen Brown and LeBron James

While focused on the defensive end, Okoro has failed to reach double-figure scoring in each of his last three (after doing so over the previous three). He struggled on 1-for-6 shooting last night in Boston – but he wasn’t alone.

A strong performance against the GOAT could turn things around and be a nice early birthday present for the kid they call “Ice.”

Key: Facing Forward

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Teaming LeBron with Anthony Davis obviously creates a nightmare scenario for opponents – and that’s been the case again already this season.

But as great as the duo’s been together, like James, Davis’ offensive numbers have been down so far this year – averaging 22.1ppg and 8.8rpg – despite his usual stellar play on the defensive end.

“The Brow” has topped the 30-point mark just twice so far this season, but one of those occasions was on Saturday night against his hometown team – going off for 37 points on 14-of-21 shooting. He’s dropped 30-plus on the Cavaliers four times over his career, including his most recent, a 38-point outburst while still a member of the Pelicans.

The Cavs will start out with Larry Nance Jr. against Davis, but he’ll see plenty of looks.

Excluding Sunday’s clunker in Boston, Nance has been playing some of his best ball of the season – netting double-figures in all three games over the Cavs recent win streak and seven of the last nine.

Drafted 27th overall by the Lakers in 2015, Nance has doubled-up three times this season and continues to lead the NBA in steals at 2.25spg.

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