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Three Keys: Cavaliers vs. Thunder

Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Key: Rolling Thunder

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On Sunday night, the Cavaliers play their seventh straight game against a Western Conference opponent. But for the first time since that run began, they’re taking on a team that’s also currently scrapping for wins.

In their return to Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse after a five-game West Coast trip, the Wine & Gold squared off against the team that handed them their worst loss of the roadie, and things didn’t go much better on their home floor – with Jamal Murry dropping 50 points on Cleveland without attempting a free throw as the Nuggets handed the Cavs their ninth straight loss.

The rebuilding Thunder come into tonight’s contest having dropped three straight and six of their last seven – including a 13-point loss to the Bucks in Milwaukee on Friday night in which they totaled just 85 points and their high-scorer, Lugentz Dort, finished with just 17 points.

The Cavs have struggled against OKC over the past few years – falling in four straight meetings, including six of the last seven.

Key: Really a Backcourt Battle

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Over the past couple years, the Thunder has completely remade their roster as they look to put the pieces back together after an incredible run of success in which they reached the postseason in 10 of the last 11 years.

One of OKC’s primary building blocks is third-year guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who’s improved in each of those seasons and comes into tonight’s contest leading the Thunder in scoring (22.2) and assists (6.4) by a fairly wide margin.

This year, the former Kentucky standout, who spent his first year with the Clippers, has a dozen games of at least 20 points and four 30-point outings. He missed four games recently with a left knee sprain, but bounced back with a 22-point night against Memphis before struggling mightily against the Bucks.

Gilgeous-Alexander will face his former SEC rival on Sunday night in Collin Sexton – who posted his fourth straight game of at least 20 points after posting his worst offensive night of the season on the road against Denver. In Friday’s loss to the Nuggets, the Young Bull led the Wine & Gold with 23 points on 8-for-17 shooting, including 3-of-7 from long-range.

Sexton got the first start of his career against the Thunder back in 2018 and hasn’t looked back. In four career contests against OKC, the former Alabama star is averaging 22.3 points per, with a 30-point night and a 21-point, 10-assist double-double in the mix.

Key: Middle Men

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The Cavaliers have faced off against OKC’s starting center Al Horford plenty of times in the postseason – 23 games to be exact. This time around, he’s part of the rebuilding Thunder, but is still having a typically productive year.

Now in his 14th year out of Florida, the versatile big man is the Thunder’s second-leading scorer and rebounder and leads the squad in steals and blocks and is posting his highest scoring average since the 2015-16 season with Atlanta. In 20 appearances this year with OKC, Horford has tallied double figures in all but three.

Overall, tonight’s meeting with be Horford’s 60th against Cleveland, including Playoffs, averaging 12.5 points and 6.9 boards over that elongated stretch.

Horford will face off against one of the Cavaliers who’s actually been outstanding throughout the team’s recent struggles in Jarrett Allen.

The fourth-year big man from Texas posted his third straight double-double on Friday night against Denver, fourth in his last five outings – finishing with 20 points and a team-high 10 boards, going 8-of-9 from the floor with four assists.

Over that five-game span, the NBA’s field goal percentage leader (.653) is averaging 17.6 points and 10.0 boards per, shooting 61 percent from the floor with six blocked shots.

In six career meetings against OKC, Allen’s scored in double-figures in four of them and doubled-up in two.

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