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Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Five Keys: Cavaliers at Bucks

David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele Beat Writer

Key: Grand Central

The Cavaliers had their win streak at The Q snapped in the final contest of the homestand on Friday night, but not before they were able to drop the league’s best squad two days earlier. That opponent will be looking for some revenge when the Wine & Gold travel for the final meeting of the season against Milwaukee.

On Wednesday night, the Cavaliers tripped up the Greek Freak-less Bucks in Cleveland, with Collin Sexton hitting two big baskets in the final two minutes. The victory gave Cleveland its fourth straight home win over an Eastern Conference Playoff contender, but the clock struck midnight on their home streak on Friday night, with the Clippers overcoming an early 15-point deficit early and weather a Cavs rally late.

The Bucks got Giannis Antetokuonmpo back after their loss in Cleveland and immediately got back into the win column – putting a 29-point beating on Miami on Friday night to win their 10th game by at least 20 points this season. The win also gave the East-leading Bucks their 10th series win in 10 matchups against a Conference opponent.

The resurgent Cavaliers will try to keep them from turning it up to 11 on Sunday afternoon.

Key: Super Freak-y

The Cavaliers got a bit of a break last Wednesday night at The Q when the Bucks decided to give their superstar forward Giannis Antetokuonmpo an extra game to rest an ankle injury. They might not get as lucky on Sunday afternoon.

As great as the 25-year-old has been through the first five years of his career, he’s been even better this season – leading the league’s top squad and putting up jaw-dropping numbers, averaging career-highs in scoring (27.5ppg), rebounding (12.6rpg) and assists (6.0apg) while shooting a career-best 58 percent from the floor.

The last time a player averaged at least 27/12/6 was Oscar Robertson back in 1961-62.

The Freak has suited up in just one of the first three meetings against Cleveland this year, but it was a doozy – erupting for 44 points, going 14-for-19 from the floor and 16-of-21 from the stripe, adding 14 boards, eight assists and a pair of blocks.

The Cavaliers will throw as many looks as they can at Antetokuonmpo, but he’ll match up for much of the afternoon against Kevin Love, who’s stayed hot since the Break – averaging 18.9 points and 11.1 boards over that 12-game stretch, with seven double-doubles in the mix.

Cleveland’s five-time All-Star struggled from the floor, going just 1-for-10 on the night, but still tied for the team lead with 10 boards.

Key: Guard Duty

Collin Sexton was already having a solid rookie season before the All-Star Break, but he’s been on another level since then.

In Friday night’s loss to the Clippers, the Young Bull topped the 20-point plateau for the eighth straight game – longest stretch by an incoming freshman this season and longest stretch since Ron Harper went for 13 straight back in 1987.

When he drilled his first triple on Friday night, he became just the 26th rookie in NBA history to tally at least 1,000 points and 100 three-pointers in a single season.

Sexton had struggled against Milwaukee through the first two contests – averaging 10.0 points on 5-for-29 shooting – but he atoned for that in last Wednesday’s win, notching a team-high 25 points on 10-for-18 shooting, including 4-of-7 from long-range.

Milwaukee’s opposite was just as good that night, with Eric Bledsoe finishing with 24 points, eight boards, eight assists and a pair of steals.

Now in his ninth year out of Kentucky, Bledsoe has been outstanding against the Wine & Gold all season – with two of his 17 20-point games coming against Cleveland, averaging an even 20.0 points per to go with 8.3 boards and 6.3 assists through the first three meetings.

Key: Fast Forward

The Greek Freak is the headliner in Milwaukee, but the Bucks didn’t put together the best mark in the Association with a one-man show.

Khris Middleton had flown under the radar for years, but earned his first All-Star nod this season – and he’s been even better after the midseason classic. Already averaging career-highs in rebounding and assists, Middleton has been averaging 20.4 points per in 16 games since the Break, shooting just over 40 percent from deep over that stretch.

Middleton has averaged 21.0 points and 8.5 boards in two meetings against Cleveland this year, leading both squads with 26 points and 12 rebound in last Wednesday’s loss at The Q.

On Sunday afternoon, he’ll likely match up against Cedi Osman, who’s hit a two-game rough patch after a pair of 20-point outings.

Osman has gone just 5-for-17 over his last two games, including a 3-for-10 showing in Wednesday’s meeting with the Bucks.

The young Cedi will be glad to be done with the Bucks for the season. Through the first three matchups this year, the sophomore from Macedonia is averaging 7.0 points per, shooting 28 percent from the floor, 23 percent from beyond the arc.

Key: Bench Trial

On Friday night, Jordan Clarkson put an exclamation point on a prolific season – eclipsing Campy Russell for the most points ever scored by a Cavaliers reserve in a single season. (Clarkson also notched his 1,000th career assist earlier that evening.)

This season, the fifth-year man from Mizzou has posted 22 games of at least 20 points – good for 3rd among all NBA reserves – two of those outings coming in his last two games, including a 20-point, five-rebound showing on Friday against the Clippers and a 23-point effort on 9-for-17 shooting in last Wednesday’s win over the Bucks.

Clarkson has been getting some help off the bench of late as the Cavaliers continue to get healthy down the stretch.

On Friday night, Larry Nance Jr. posted another strong all-around floor game – finishing with 14 points, a team-high nine boards and three steals.

While Matthew Dellavedova continues his recovery under the league’s concussion protocol, Nik Stauskas has stepped up in the backcourt. Despite taking the collar in seven minutes of action on Friday night, the former Wolverine has been solid of late – including a 17-point effort earlier this week against Detroit. Stauskas has hit at least two three-pointer in six of his last nine games.


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