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Three Keys: Cavaliers at Spurs

Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Key: Deep in the Heart of Texas

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The road-weary Cavaliers and home-weary – (?) – Spurs both come into Monday night’s meeting in need of a win.

The Cavaliers have played five of their last six on the road – traveling to Miami on Saturday night, where they dropped their 20th straight on South Beach. And they still have tonight’s contest in San Antonio and a Thursday night visit to Oklahoma City on the slate.

On Saturday night, the Cavaliers turned up their defensive intensity after intermission, holding the Heat to 17 points in the third period. But they couldn’t get over the hump after cutting Miami’s double-digit edge to just five late in the third. Miami pulled away late to hand Cleveland, again playing without Larry Nance Jr. and Jarrett Allen, its fifth straight loss.

The Spurs are playing the final contest of a nine-game homestand – and it has not gone well, dropping six of those games, including the last two.

On Saturday night, San Antonio allowed as season-high 139 points in an overtime loss to the shorthanded Pacers, the fourth game on the homestand that it’s given up 132 or more points. Seven players from both teams notched double-figures and the Spurs fell into an 8th-place tie with the Grizzlies out West.

The Cavs dropped their earlier meeting against the Spurs this year, but took last year’s matchup here in San Antonio – a 117-109 overtime thriller last December.

Key: Taking Charge

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In that overtime win last year, Collin Sexton was outstanding – and he and Kevin Love were huge down the stretch in regulation.

In the win, the Young Bull finished with 28 points, going 10-for-19 from the floor and 7-of-8 from the stripe, adding two boards, a pair of assists and a steal. But then again, he’s always done well against San Antonio.

In four of his five career meetings with San Antonio – including 29 on 12-of-25 shooting in the March 19 contest in Cleveland – Sexton has topped the 20-point mark, averaging 24.6ppg, shooting 48 percent from the floor and 81 percent from the stripe.

The third-year man from Bama also topped the 20-point mark again on Saturday night, canning his first five shots and finishing 11-of-17 from the floor for 26 points, three boards, three assists and three steals.

On Monday, he’ll get a good look at fourth-year man, Dejounte Murray, who has improved markedly in each of those four seasons – taking a career-best 15.7ppg average into tonight’s matchup.

Murray also topped the 20-point mark in the March meeting in Cleveland, netting 22 on 8-for-15 shooting. He struggled through the first two games of the homestand, but found his footing from there, averaging 17.8 points per over his last four.

Key: Doing the Dirty Work

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Despite some of the raw numbers, Isaac Okoro has had a promising freshman season in Cleveland.

The rugged-but-raw rookie didn’t get the benefit of a post-Draft period to collect his thoughts (and things) or a Summer League or even an extended Training Camp. Instead, he’s been thrown to the NBA wolves on a nightly basis and had a nice leap over the rookie wall on Saturday night – finishing with a career-best 17 points, going 5-of-7 from the floor, hitting both three-pointers he attempted and going 5-of-7 from the line.

Okoro had a quiet night in the last meeting with San Antonio, finishing with four points on 1-of-4 shooting. He’d struggled on the scoring end before Saturday’s effort – netting double-figures in four games since the start of March. But, again, he’s drawn the opponent’s toughest defensive assignment on a nightly basis.

On Monday, he’ll likely lock horns with DeMar DeRozan, who’s having another solid season in San Antonio.

The four-time All-Star, who finished with 20 points in the Spurs’ March victory in Cleveland, has been especially good over the last three games of the Spurs elongated homestand – averaging 29.0 points, shooting 54 percent from the floor and 85 percent from the stripe, attempting just a single three-pointer over that stretch.

In 38 career meetings, regular and postseason, DeRozan’s averaged 19.1ppg with 16 20-point outings and seven 30-point games in the mix.

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