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Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Five Keys: Cavaliers vs. Blazers

LeBron James
Sam Forencich/NBAE/Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele Beat Writer

Key: A Helping of Home Cookin'

After a difficult three-game trip out West, the Wine & Gold return to The Q on Tuesday night for a one-game stopover before getting right back on the road following tonight’s matchup with the Blazers. After the meeting with Portland, the Cavaliers embark on a five-game, 10-day trip that sends them to Boston, Orlando, Minnesota, Toronto and Indiana.

On Saturday night in Utah, the Cavs dropped their third straight contest, with the Jazz taking advantage of a 23-3 run to start the second half, holding off the Cavs late push and sending LeBron James home without a win once again in Salt Lake City.

The Blazers come into tonight’s matchup having won three of their last four, including an overtime win over the Bulls on Monday night.

The Cavaliers have won 12 straight at The Q and have topped the Blazers in each of their last three visits – including a 137-126 shootout over Portland last season in Cleveland.

When the Cavs’ upcoming trip wraps up, the season will be exactly half way over. They’d like to depart for it with some momentum – especially with a big battle with the Celtics looming tomorrow night.

Key: Let the Games Begin

Speaking of Boston – (although he won’t play against his former team on Wednesday) – tonight’s matchup against Portland marks the Cavaliers’ debut of Isaiah Thomas, who arrived in a blockbuster offseason deal but hasn’t played since May 19, when he injured his hip against Cleveland in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

After months of rehab, the two-time All-Star and the East’s reigning scoring leader will finally see action on Tuesday (but will not see action against his former team tomorrow night, with Cleveland holding him out of back-to-backs for the time being).

Thomas, who averaged 28.9 ppg last year with Boston, will come off the bench and be on a minutes-restriction for now, but just getting back on the floor is a big first step for the All-NBA Second Teamer.

Both Thomas and Jose Calderon, however, will have their hands full as Portland’s Damian Lillard plans to make his return to the lineup on Tuesday after missing the previous five games with a right hamstring strain.

The Blazers’ two-time All-Star guard has had some big nights against the Wine & Gold – including a 40-point outburst in last season's loss at The Q, going 5-for-7 from long-range to go with seven boards and a team-high 11 assists.

Key: Love Machine

If fans don’t quite remember Lillard’s 40-point effort in last season's contest at The Q, it’s because Kevin Love was equally en fuego that night.

In Cleveland’s November 23 victory, Love had the greatest single quarter in franchise history – notching 34 points in the opening period and finishing with 40 on the night, his individual high as a Cavalier.

In that jaw-dropping performance, the four-time All-Star set the team mark for points in a quarter, an NBA record for points in a first quarter, the franchise mark for three-pointers in any quarter (8) as well as field goals made in any quarter (11). The 34 points was also the second-highest total by a player in any period, with Klay Thompson’s 37-point third-quarter in January 2015 standing as the all-time mark.

In terms of this season, Love is poised for All-Star appearance No. 5 – averaging 20.2 points and a team-best 10.2 boards per, posting 22 double-doubles along the way. And Love’s been very good of late – netting at least 20 points and hitting at least three, three-pointers in six straight contests, averaging 24.5 ppg, shooting .464 from long-range over that stretch.

Love will have his work cut out for him on Tuesday night, however, taking on Portland’s versatile big man, Jusuf Nurkic, who’s doubled-up in three of his last four games, including an 11-point, 15-rebound outing last night in Chicago.

Key: Shooter's Touch

The Cavaliers remain one of the hottest long-distance shooting squads in the Association, having canned double-digit triples in 32 of their 36 games this season, including a team-record 25 games dating back to November 7.

One of their most dangerous marksmen, JR Smith, however, has been up and down all season.

Last Wednesday night in Sacramento, he was up – connecting on five three-pointers for the third time this season, finishing with 15 points, his first double-digit scoring performance since December 8. But Swish fell back into a funk the following game, going just 2-for-7 from deep, netting just six points in 33 minutes against the Jazz.

Whether he’s shooting the ball well tonight or not, he’ll have to be on-point defensively, taking on the pride of Canton and one-half of the Blazers’ dynamic backcourt, C.J. McCollum.

The fifth-year guard from Lehigh has notched at least 30 points in two of his last three outings – including a 32-point performance on Tuesday night in the Windy City – canning five triples of his own to go with a game-high eight assists and six rebounds.

He struggled from the floor in his last visit to Cleveland, but made up for it in the following matchup – going off for 27 points, hitting on 5-for-10 from long-range, in the Blazers’ lopsided win last January in Portland.

Key: Bench Trial

As good as the Cavaliers’ second unit has been this year, they’re about to see another major change – with Isaiah Thomas temporarily joining the reserves while he works his way back into game-shape.

After a pair of so-so performances to start the trip, Cleveland’s bench found their mojo on Saturday night in Utah – combining for 44 points in the loss.

Jeff Green, who bounced back from a slow start to the trip, accounted for half of those – finishing with 22 points on 6-for-12 shooting, including 4-of-4 from beyond the arc and 6-of-6 from the stripe. Dwyane Wade, the squad’s third-leading scorer, did a little bit of everything with nine points, seven boards and four assists. And Tristan Thompson might’ve had his best game of the season in Saturday’s loss, notching double-figures for the first time with 11 points on 4-for-4 shooting, adding five boards and a pair of blocks in just under 20 minutes of work. Kyle Korver took the collar for the first time since opening night, going 0-for-5 from the floor against his former squad.

The Blazers will counter off the bench with Shabazz Napier, Pat Cannaughton – who finished with 16 points last night in Chicago – as well as big man, Ed Davis, and Maurice Harkless, who tallied 22 points off the bench two weeks ago in a win over the Lakers.

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