Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Five Keys: Cavaliers vs. Clippers

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor

Key: Road Warriors Return

The Cavaliers come back to Cleveland a different team than the one that left town nine days ago – running off three straight road wins after dropping a slugfest in Houston to start the trip.

LeBron James, Kevin Love and an outstanding combined performance from the second unit propelled the three-game run, capped off on Wednesday night in Charlotte, as the Cavs made it seven straight over the Hornets.

On Friday night, the Wine & Gold welcome their first Western Conference foe to The Q when the Los Angeles Clippers roll into Cleveland looking to snap a major funk – having dropped six straight and eight of their last nine, including a 109-105 loss on Monday night in Philly.

History is not on the Clippers side in this one. Since the 1979-80 season, the Cavaliers have won 31 of their 37 home contests against the Clips, including an 18-4 mark at The Q.

But the Cavs have actually been very good against most Western Conference clubs in Cleveland lately – winners of 32 of their last 38 home games against the West, with a 12-3 record last season at The Q.

Key: Homecoming King

LeBron James led the charge as the Wine & Gold wrapped up their four-game trip at 3-1 – and through the first 15 games of the season, he’s posting his highest scoring average since 2009-10.

He bookended the trip with a pair of 30-point performances – two of his six this season – capping the roadie with a game-high 31-point outing on Wednesday night in Charlotte. In the win, Numeral 23 went 12-for-24 from the floor, including a 4-for-7 mark from long-range, adding a game-best eight assists, six boards, two steals and a block.

James has had some big games against the Clippers in the past, but they held him in check during their rare win at The Q last December – limiting LeBron to just 16 points, five points and five boards.

While the Clippers are struggling as a team, Blake Griffin – who’ll primarily lock horns with LeBron on Friday night – is having another solid season in Tinseltown – averaging 23.1 points, 7.8 boards and 4.7 assists in his eighth season out of Oklahoma. Griffin struggled on 4-for-14 shooting in the Clippers’ win in Cleveland last year but bounced back to drop 23 points on the Cavs in L.A.’s March victory at STAPLES Center.

Key: Center of Attention

The Clippers might be clawing for wins right now, but along with Blake Griffin, they still a heavy hitter in the frontcourt.

DeAndre Jordan comes into Friday’s contest as the league’s third-leading rebounder (13.4 rpg) trailing only DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Drummond. The former Texas A & M standout has also notched double-figure scoring in nine of L.A.’s 13 games so far – although he’s coming off a two-point outing against the Sixers on Monday night.

This season, Jordan is shooting the exact same percentage from both the floor and the stripe -- .595 – the latter being a career-high, so far.

Whether he’s scoring or not, Jordan will be a handful for Kevin Love, who was outstanding through most of Cleveland’s four-game junket. In Wednesday’s win over Charlotte, Love posted his team-leading 10th double-double of the season, netting 22 points on 9-for-16 shooting to go with a game-best 10 rebounds.

In 21 career games against the Clippers, the four-time All-Star has doubled-up in 16 of them – boasting averages of 18.9 points and 12.7 boards.

Key: Green Energy

Many things came more clearly into focus on the Cavs’ recent road trip, and one of them was just how dangerous the second unit can truly be. Whether it was Kyle Korver or Dwyane Wade or Jeff Green or Channing Frye, pretty much every number Tyronn Lue called over Cleveland’s 3-1 run produced to varying degrees.

Korver put on a two-game shooting display in Dallas and New York – combining for 32 points in just the fourth quarters of the Cavs’ first two wins on the trip – going a combined 8-for-12 from long-range in the final period.

The Cavaliers didn’t get the win last Thursday night in Houston, but Jeff Green went off for 20 points (27 overall on the night) in the second quarter and capped off the trip with a 13-point, seven-rebound performance in the win over Charlotte.

Dwyane Wade isn’t the same “Flash” that he was in his earlier days, but he’s proven that he doesn’t have to be – playing a measured, deliberate floor game and running the second unit with a veteran touch. Over the four-game trip, the 12-time All-Star averaged 8.3 points, 5.3 boards and 3.3 assists per.

Channing Frye’s minutes had been dwindling this season before a nice run in New York put him back into the rotation. Over the last two games of the trip, Frye averaged 9.0 points and 6.5 boards, shooting 50 percent from the floor, 40 percent from beyond the arc.

As a unit, Cleveland’s reserves topped the 40-point mark in three of the four games on the trip and have nine such outings so far this season.

Key: Busy Backcourt

As the Clippers are discovering, it’s not easy to replace a player like Chris Paul.

They still have some talent in the backcourt – including Austin Rivers, Patrick Beverly and Lou Williams off the bench. Rivers is having his best scoring season as a pro, averaging 13.3 points through L.A.’s first 13 games and he’ll get the start against JR Smith on Friday night.

Patrick Beverly has been nursing a sore right knee and is listed as doubtful for Friday night’s contest.

Lou Williams comes into the contest healthy and ready to fire – coming off a 31-point performance against Philly at STAPLES Center on Monday and a 35-point outburst against OKC two games before that. The Cavs held the former Sixth Man of the Year in check last season, but Williams has had some monster games against Cleveland in the past – no matter what uniform he’s donning.

With health issues still swirling, the Clippers might again turn to rookie Sindarius Thornwell as they open a five-game road trip tonight in Cleveland.

The Wine & Gold didn’t shoot around on Friday morning, but Iman Shumpert is still listed as tonight’s probable starter at the point. Shump doesn’t possess the offensive skill-set of a Derrick Rose, but Coach Lue likes his pace and defensive intensity. In Wednesday’s win over Charlotte, Shumpert finished with seven points, four boards, four assists, two steals and a block.

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