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Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Five Keys: Cavaliers at Bulls

Jordan Clarkson
Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele Beat Writer

Key: Windy City Showdown

The Wine & Gold wrap up the season series with their Central Division rivals, taking on the Bulls at the United Center on Sunday afternoon.

The Cavaliers come into today’s contest having dropped six straight and 18 of their last 19 games, including a 104-88 decision on MLK Day back at The Q.

On Friday night, Cleveland played three very good quarters, but dug itself a third-quarter hole that proved to be too deep, cutting an 18-point fourth-quarter deficit to just five in the closing seconds, but couldn’t quite get over the hump.

The Bulls are a team in a similar situation to the Wine & Gold, having dropped 12 of their last 13. The bad news for the Cavs is that one victory came against them – as have two of Chicago's previous 10 victories earlier this season.

The Bulls swept the season series against Cleveland two years ago, were swept in four games by the Cavs last year and have won the first three this year by an average of 12.3 points per.

The Wine & Gold would love to reverse the trend on Sunday afternoon.

Key: The Young Cedi

What a difference one week makes. Yes, the Cavaliers are still struggling to get off the schneid, but their young sophomores – particularly Cedi Osman – have shown some serious growth of late.

In Monday’s loss to the Bulls, Osman finished with single-digit scoring for the third time in his past four games.

Fast forward to this afternoon’s matchup and Osman comes in averaging 27.5 points per over his last two outings, including a career-high 29-point effort on Friday night against Miami, going 11-for-20 from the floor, adding four boards, four assists and a pair of steals.

Over his last four games, Osman is averaging 19.8 points per on 58 percent shooting. The one rough outing in that mix came on Monday afternoon against Chicago, finishing with just eight points and zero boards, struggling on both ends against Lauri Markkanen.

The sophomore from Arizona has already gone for 31 points against Cleveland and is averaging 20.2 points in five career head-to-head contests.

The difference between Monday’s matchup and this afternoon’s is that the Cavaliers will have Larry Nance Jr. – who returned from an eight-game layoff – at their disposal.

Key: Middle Management

If the Cavaliers are going to spend the season retooling the roster for the future, one youngster who’s made a recent impression is 22-year-old big man Ante Zizic – who’s taken advantage of the squad’s season-long battle with the injury bug.

Including his 11-point, nine-rebound effort on Friday night against Miami, the 23rd overall pick of the 2016 Draft has now tallied double-figures in a career-high six straight games, averaging 16.2 points on 60 percent shooting to go with 8.3 boards over that span.

Zizic barely missed a double-double in Monday’s loss to Chicago, finishing with 13 points and nine boards, primarily against Robin Lopez.

In a spot-start against Chicago last March, Big Z was very good, notching 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting adding six boards and a block in the win.

With Wendell Carter Jr. possibly gone for the remainder of his rookie season, the Bulls have used both Lopez and Bobby Portis in the middle.

Portis came off the bench against Cleveland, but got the start in Chicago’s recent loss to the Clippers, doubling-up for the second time in as many starts at center, finishing with 18 points and a game-high 14 boards.

Key: High-Flyer

Easily the most explosive player on the Bulls' roster is Zach LaVine, and he proved that earlier this week at The Q – leading both squads with 23 points, going 9-of-16 from the floor, including 3-of-6 from long-range.

The former Slam Dunk Contest winner is Chicago’s leading scorer and is one of seven Eastern Conference players to have topped the 20-point plateau on 32 or more occasions this season. He’s already put up two of those against Cleveland this season and has three in his career.

The former UCLA standout will get a look at both Rodney Hood and Alec Burks on Sunday afternoon. Hood, the league’s third-ranked free throw shooter, has posted 30 double-figure scoring outings this year, including a 10-point effort on Friday against Miami, snapping a two-game funk in which he went 2-for-17 from the floor.

Burks struggled just as badly on Monday against the Bulls, going 1-for-7 from the floor.

The eighth-year man bounced back on Friday night, though, finishing with 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting, adding seven boards, three assists and a steal – reaching 4,000 points for his career along the way.

Key: Bench Boost

The Cavaliers second unit isn’t used to being outdone – especially after a road trip that saw the collective average over 50 points per – but that’s been the case over the past two games.

After being outscored, 60-30, last Wednesday night in Boston, Miami’s second unit outdid them, 35-18, on Friday.

On Friday night, Jordan Clarkson failed to tally double-figures for just the second time since December 12. Still the league’s third-leading bench scorer, Clarkson comes into this afternoon’s contest averaging 17.1 ppg.

In four games against Chicago as a Cavalier, Clarkson has registered double-figures in each, averaging 15.8 points per.

Depending on how Coach Larry Drew wants to start off against Lauri Markkanen, he could also have Larry Nance Jr. at his disposal off the bench.

Nance finished with six points and six boards in 21 minutes of work. Nance had been playing very well before injuring his right knee on January 8 – averaging 11.8 points and 10.0 boards in the previous 10 games before the injury.


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