Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Five Keys: Cavaliers vs. Bucks

Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor

Key: Bucking the Trend

With Game 11 of the 2017-18 season on tap in a few hours at The Q, the question has to be: Which Cavaliers team are we going to see tonight against Milwaukee?

After a very impressive performance against the Wizards on Friday night, the Wine & Gold returned home and laid an egg against a Hawks team that came into the affair having dropped eight straight.

The Cavaliers have had good recent success against the Bucks, though, winning four straight and nine of their previous 11 – including a 116-97 victory in the second game of the season. The Cavs shot 54 percent and six players notched double-figures and, aside from Friday’s win over Washington, was the Wine & Gold’s last solid outing.

The Bucks, who came into the season with some high expectations, haven’t found their rhythm yet, either. After starting the season 4-2, Jason Kidd’s squad has dropped three straight, including a nine-point loss to the surprising Pistons on Friday night.

It’s still way early, but both teams are currently looking up at Detroit and Indiana in the standings – not a place they expected to be at almost any point. Tonight’s game will temporarily solve one team’s issues; the other will leave still searching for answers.

Key: Reserve Judgement

The Cavaliers came into the season – even without Kyrie Irving at point – with one of the most talented starting lineups in the East. But through the first 10 games of the season, it’s been Cleveland’s bench that’s picked up a lot of the load.

So far this season, the Wine & Gold’s second unit is averaging 40.6 points per, including a 64-point collective in Sunday’s 117-115 loss to the Hawks. In that game, Dwyane Wade (25 points) and Kyle Korver (23) became the first Cavs duo to notch at least 23 points off the bench since Ricky Davis (24) and Lamont Murray (24) did so back in 2002.

Cleveland’s second unit was also very good in the first win over Milwaukee this season – outscoring the Bucks’ reserves, 45-23 – and they should get Iman Shumpert back from a three-game layoff tonight.

Both teams will be without their bench’s best big – with both Tristan Thompson and Greg Monroe out with calf strains.

Of course, the Bucks will bring a player off the bench tonight that’ll get as big an ovation as any visitor when Matthew Dellavedova peels off the warm-ups. Delly’s had a slightly down year offensively, but he did can the game-deciding triple that (unfortunately) accounted for Boston’s last loss.

Key: It's All Greek

If you took a poll of the Eastern Conference’s three MVP candidates three games into the season in no particular order, the first scored 57 points on Friday night, the second was already mentioned atop KeyBank Key No. 2 and the third will start at forward for Milwaukee tonight.

Like LeBron, however, “forward” is an elusive label. Like the King, Giannis Antetokounmpo simultaneously every position and no position on the floor, and this year he’s continued to fulfill all expectations.

Right now, the Greek Freak is the NBA’s leading scorer at 31.0 ppg. In Friday’s loss to the Pistons, the Freak notched 29 points, his eighth game this season with at last 28 – one of those coming back on October 20, when he went off for 34 points, eight boards, eight assists, three steals and a block.

And while Antetokounmpo is seeking his first MVP award, LeBron is trying to win his fifth – first since 2013 – and his blast from the past on Friday night didn’t hurt. LeBron has been extremely efficient from the floor all season, shooting .608 through the first 10 games, and he was very good despite the loss on Sunday, finishing with 26 points on 10-for-17 shooting to go with a game-best 13 assists, five boards and pair of blocks.

It’ll be another excellent battle between two of the game’s best.

Key: Feeling the Love

Before the second half of Friday’s contest in D.C., Kevin Love had been impervious to the Cavaliers’ funk. But he caught it this weekend, and a stomach illness sent him to the locker room (and eventually the hospital) during Sunday’s loss to the Hawks.

But Love, who practiced yesterday, should be good to go when the Bucks roll in tonight.

Previous to the win over Washington, Love had doubled-up in seven of Cleveland’s first eight contests. One of those was a 17-point, 12-board effort – adding six assists and two blocks in the Cavs’ early-season win over the Bucks. Over the course of his career, the four-time All-Star has posted double-doubles in 14 of his 18 meetings with Milwaukee – averaging 19.2 points and 12.3 boards against them.

Love will square off with the defensive-minded John Henson on Tuesday night. Thon Maker had been starting in the middle for Milwaukee, but Henson has gotten the nod over the last two games. He’s only scored in double-figures once this season, but he’s already had four games of at least three blocked shots.

Key: Guarded Optimism

After posting his best scoring total as a Cavalier on Friday night – finishing with 20 points on 8-for-16 shooting – Derrick Rose had his toughest game this season in Sunday’s loss at The Q, finishing with 10 points and as many made field goals as turnovers.

Rose has still been solid on the offensive end this season, averaging 15.0 points in in six outings. As he continues to get comfortable with the starting unit, his assist numbers should increase; at 1.9 apg, he’s fourth on the team.

Rose will have to bring his A-game tonight against the reigning Rookie of the Year, Malcolm Brogdon – who grabbed the starting spot midway through last season and never gave it back. This year, he’s off to another very good start – averaging 15.5 points and 4.8 assists, shooting .457 from long-range and an even 50 percent from the floor.

Brogdon went for 20 points off the bench in his final game against Cleveland last season and finished with 16 points on 6-for-12 shooting in Milwaukee’s loss to Cleveland back in October.

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