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Keys to the Game: Cavaliers at Suns

Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank


Setting Suns

The Wine & Gold wrap up the Western Conference portion of their five-game roadie on Saturday night, when they play the second half of a weekend back-to-back, traveling to Phoenix for a showdown against the Suns.

On Friday, the Cavaliers turned in another strong effort, but it wasn’t enough against the star-studded Lakers, who closed the third period on a 12-0 run and turned up the heat early in the fourth, holding Cleveland to just 16 points in the final period. Despite struggling from beyond the arc, LeBron James led everyone with 26 points as both teams evened their records at 3-3.

Playing in front of friends and family for the second straight game, rookie Evan Mobley continued his rapid ascension – leading Cleveland with 23 points on 10-of-16 shooting, adding six boards, three assists and a pair of steals. Among rookies this season, Mobley ranks second in rebounding and field goal percentage, third in scoring and has more than twice as many blocks as the next closest competitor.

The Cavs got solid showings from their point guard duo – with Darius Garland and Ricky Rubio netting 18 points apiece and Garland leading both squads with 11 assists. Lauri Markkanen added 17 points despite cooling off considerably after intermission.

The Western Conference Champs have staggered out of the gate this season with a 1-3 mark. After a double-digit win over the Lakers in their second game of the season, the Suns got clobbered by 29 points one week ago in Portland and dropped a frustrating decision to the Kings on Wednesday night – overcoming a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit only to lose on Harrison Barnes’ buzzer-beater.

The well-rested Suns will be playing the second game of a five-game homestand. The Wine & Gold are on the second-to-last game of a five-game trip – closing out the junket on Monday in Charlotte.

Something’s gotta give on Saturday night …


History

Phoenix leads the all-time series between these two teams, 48-67 – including a 42-16 advantage over Cleveland in the Valley of the Sun. And although the Wine & Gold ran off eight straight wins from 2015-19, the Suns have won the last three – including an overtime thriller at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse last May, weathering a career-high 35-point performance by then-rookie Isaac Okoro.

The Cavs high-scorer in the series is LeBron James – who went off for 46 points in a loss at Phoenix back in 2006, with Zydrunas Ilgauskas adding 26 and 12 in the loss. The Suns top man in the head-to-head matchups is the late, great Paul Westphal, who scored 39 points in a 123-112 loss to the Cavaliers at the Coliseum. Cleveland was led by Campy Russell, who finished with 22 points on 8-of-10 shooting.


Connections

The Suns have three former Cavaliers who spent parts of a single season in Cleveland – Jae Crowder, Cameron Payne and JaVale McGee. Crowder played in 57 games with the Wine & Gold in 2017-18 before being dealt at the Deadline. Payne played in nine games in 2019. And McGee was moved at the Deadline last year, shipped to Denver after a productive 33-game run.

And of course, the Suns general manager – and the league’s reigning Executive of the Year – is James Jones, who spent the final three seasons of his 14-year NBA career with the Cavaliers, helping the squad win the 2016 NBA Championship. Over his three-year run, the man they call “Champ” shot 38 percent from long-range in 193 regular and postseason outings with Cleveland.

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