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Three Keys: Cavaliers vs. Nuggets

Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Key: Home Sweet Home

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The Cavaliers and Nuggets were originally supposed to meet in Cleveland during the season’s second half. But due to contract tracing issues with the Hornets – and following the Wine & Gold’s Wednesday postponement against San Antonio – both squads will squeeze one in on Friday night.

J.B. Bickerstaff’s squad – who haven’t played on their home floor in two weeks – are in the midst of an eight-game losing skein, dropping seven of those contests by at least 17 points, including a lopsided loss to the Warriors on Monday night in San Francisco. The Cavaliers were in that contest through the first half and within single-digits midway through the third, but a late burst gave Golden State all the room it needed.

After a three-game win steak that started with a victory over the Cavs in Denver back on February 10, the Nuggets have dropped two straight themselves – dropping back-to-back meetings against the Celtics and Wizards – the latter of which after posting a 20-point lead. Mike Malone’s squad in in the midst of a brutal road stretch to close the first half, playing nine of their last 11 games away from Ball Arena.

The Cavaliers swept Denver last season, but took one on the chin in the second game of their recent West Coast junket – running into a surly Nuggets squad stinging after three straight losses.

Key: Really Big Deal

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There hasn’t been a center like Nikola Jokic come through the league in a long time, maybe ever. Widely regarded as one of the best passing bigs of all-time, he currently leads the Nuggets in scoring, rebounding and assists.

The sixth-year man was already a perennial name in league MVP discussions, and this year he’s having his best season as a pro – averaging 27.4 points, 11.1 rebounds and 8.6 assists per – all career-highs, along with his shooting percentage from the floor (.570) and three-point range (.402).

The 41st overall pick of the 2014 Draft, Jokic has been excellent all year – including in Denver’s two recent losses, drooping 43 points on the Celtics and 33 more on Washington the following night.

Jokic had a pedestrian 12 points and 12 rebounds in the Nuggets recent win over the Cavs – two games after going for 50 in a loss to the Kings.

Jarrett Allen has moved into the starting lineup for the Cavaliers and, while not posting Jokic-like numbers, has been very good since his arrival from Brooklyn – doubling-up in three of his last four outings, including a 13-point, 14-rebound effort in Monday’s loss to the Warriors (and his 18-point, 10-rebound game against these Nuggets).

In five games as a starter with Cleveland, the fourth-year man from Texas is averaging 16.6 points and 11.4 rebounds, shooting 61 percent from the floor with 1.8 blocks per.

Key: The Bull is Back

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Denver’s Jamal Murray was mired in a mini-funk when Cleveland last faced Denver. Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, that funk seems to have ended.

After finishing with 11 points in the previous game and just eight points on 3-of-6 shooting against the Wine & Gold on February 10, the former Kentucky star has returned to form – averaging 26.8 points per in the four games since.

Murray has drilled at least four triples in each of his last four outings, including a 35-point outburst two nights ago against the Wizards, going 13-for-25 from the floor, including 5-of-10 from long-range.

The Cavaliers have done a solid job against Murray over the years; in nine career meetings, the 7th overall pick back in 2016 has only topped the 20-point plateau on two occasions.

Murray will again get up close and personal with Collin Sexton, who had easily his toughest night of the season in the last meeting against Denver – finishing with just four points on 1-for-9 shooting.

Since that game, the Young Bull has bounced back with a vengeance – netting at least 20 points in each of his next three outings, including a team-high 23-point night in Cleveland’s recent loss in Golden State.

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