Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Five Keys: Cavaliers at Bulls

David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor

Key: The Dirty Dozen

The Wine & Gold get right back on the road on Monday night, making their first trip to the Windy City this season – taking on the rebuilding Bulls and trying to run their win streak to an NBA-best 12 games.

On Saturday night at The Q, the Cavaliers outlasted a scrappy Grizzlies squad that clawed back from a 19-point second-half deficit to tie the game with just over two minutes to play – utilizing a fourth-quarter flurry by LeBron James to get the win.

The young Bulls come into tonight’s contest with the worst mark in the league – 3-18 – having won just once in their last 14 outings and coming off a one-point loss on Friday night to Sacramento.

After falling in all four contests to the Bulls last season, Cleveland took care of the Bulls back on October 24 at The Q. The Wine & Gold won’t take the Bulls lightly, but if they’re playing the way they’ve been since mid-November, they should be able to run their win streak to a dirty dozen against a struggling Chicago team.

Key: Finnish Around the Rim

The Bulls haven’t had a lot to celebrate this season, but they can take solace in the fact that their top pick looks like a true building block for the future.

In the Draft night deal that sent Jimmy Butler to Minnesota, the Bulls acquired Lauri Markkanen, the seventh overall pick this past June. And so far, the Finnish seven-footer has been even better than advertised, second on the Bulls in scoring and leading in rebounding early in his first season.

The former Arizona standout gave the Cavaliers all they could handle off the bench in the preseason and was just as impressive in Chicago’s late-October loss at The Q – finishing with 19 points on 7-for-12 shooting, including 5-of-8 from beyond the arc. Markkanen has notched double-figures in 19 of the 21 games he’s played so far, doubling-up in six of those contests.

Every member of Cleveland’s frontline will get a look at the impressive rookie on Monday night.

Key: Reign Man

LeBron James won his last MVP award while still with the Heat back in 2013 – but he’s got that look going again this season, posting his best offensive campaign since the 2009-10 campaign, his final season in Cleveland the first time around.

The King was excellent down the stretch in Cleveland’s 11th straight win on Saturday night – scoring the Cavaliers’ final 13 points and notching 15 of his game-high 34 points in the fourth quarter. For the night, James tallied his 10th 30-point game of the season, going 13-for-22 from the floor and 8-for-8 from the stripe, adding a team-high 12 assists, a pair of boards and a blocked shot.

Saturday’s contest was James’ 63rd career game of at least 30 points and 10 assists – trailing only Oscar Robertson, Nate Archibald and Jerry West.

In Cleveland’s first matchup with the Bulls, the 13-time All-Star registered one of his 15 double-doubles this season – finishing with 34 points on 13-for-20 shooting, including 4-of-6 from long-distance, leading both teams with 13 assists and three steals.

Key: Home Cookin'

On Monday night, Dwyane Wade returns to his hometown for the first time in a Cavaliers uniform – and he comes into the game on a serious roll.

After spending just a single season with the Bulls – playing his first 13 seasons on South Beach – the 12-time All-Star signed with the Wine & Gold during Training Camp and has been an epiphany for Tyronn Lue’s second unit all season.

On Saturday night, Wade again stuffed the boxscore – finishing with 16 points, going 6-of-9 from the floor and 4-of-5 from the stripe, adding four helpers and a pair of blocks in the victory. It was the sixth straight game that the former Marquette star has netted double-figures – averaging 15.8 points, 2.8 boards, 3.8 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks over that stretch.

Wade made his first appearance with the second unit the last time Cleveland faced Chicago and turned in a typically efficient performance, finishing with 11 points on 5-for-7 shooting to go with four assists, three boards, a steal and a blocked shot.

The Bulls actually get quite a bit of production off their bench – including a combined 55 points in Friday’s loss to Sacramento – led by Jerian Grant, Paul Zipser, Christiano Felicio and our old friend, Kay Felder.

Key: Finding a Rhythm

The Cavaliers had been rolling along this month even while JR Smith continued to struggle. Now that he’s back on a roll, the Wine & Gold have been even more deadly.

Swish notched double-figure scoring just twice in his first 10 outings of the season, turning in a nice three-game stretch before falling back out of rhythm midway through Cleveland’s recent win streak.

But the 14th-year guard has been in a serious groove over the past two weeks – tallying double-figure scoring in four of his last five games, averaging 12.8 points on 53 percent shooting, including a 14-for-32 mark from beyond the arc and a pair of three-steal games over that stretch.

Swish has been solid defensively all season and he’ll need to be sharp again on Monday as he tries to slow down Chicago’s leading scorer, Justin Holiday, who led the Bulls the first time these two squads faced off – finishing with 25 points on 8-for-17 shooting.