Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Five Keys: Cavaliers at Clippers

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

Key: Hooray for Hollywood

The Cavaliers tipped off their longest trip of the season in style on Wednesday night in Denver and look to keep it rolling this weekend with a pair of Tinseltown tilts lined up at STAPLES Center – starting with the Clips on Friday night.

In Wednesday’s win, the Wine & Gold led through the first three quarters before having to rally in the fourth behind LeBron James’ late-game heroics. It was Cleveland’s fifth-straight road win as they embarked on their six-game, 11-day West Coast junket.

Cleveland did the Clippers a solid with their win over Denver on Wednesday, with Los Angeles now taking over the eighth-seed in the Western Conference Playoff race.

Doc Rivers’ squad is four games into a six-game homestand and have a brutal March stretch ahead if they hope to reach the postseason. They’ve gone 9-4 since trading Blake Griffin – including four of their last six.

The Cavs took the first meeting of the season back on November 17, rallying from 15 points down to take the, 118-113, overtime win.

Key: Extended Reign

There’s nobody in the Association playing better ball right now than LeBron James – who’s also playing some of the best ball of his prolific Hall of Fame career.

He was almost unstoppable down the stretch on Wednesday night, scoring the Wine & Gold’s final nine points – capped by an incredible 12-foot fadeaway in the closing seconds, sealing the victory as he fell into the courtside seats across from the Nuggets' bench.

On the night, Cleveland’s four-time MVP led both teams with 39 points – his fifth 30-point game in his last six outings – adding 10 assists, eight boards and a pick for his team-leading 37th double-double of the season. Over that six-game stretch, the King is averaging 31.5 points, 9.8 boards and 10.0 assists and is shooting 54 percent from the floor and an even 50 percent (17-of-34) from beyond the arc in the process.

LeBron doubled-up in the early-season win over the Clips – going off for 39 points on 17-for-26 shooting, adding 14 boards and six assists in the win. His 39 points that night where the highest total ever scored by a Cavalier against the Clippers.

Key: The Son Also Rises

Larry Nance Jr. has been outstanding in the middle since being acquired at the deadline. Two games ago, he was forced into the starting lineup when Tristan Thompson sprained his right ankle against Denver last Saturday night – and in his first two starts he drew Andre Drummond and Nikola Jokic.

Things don’t get any easier on Friday night for the high-flying scion of the Cavaliers’ legend – taking on All-Star big man DeAndre Jordan.

The 10th-year man from Texas A&M has grabbed 20 boards in two of his last three games – including Tuesday night’s loss to the Pelicans, giving him an even 50 for his career. Among active players, only Dwight Howard (80) has more. This season, Jordan is second in the league in rebounds (15.1) and field goal percentage (.649) and although he’s not known as a scorer, he went off for 30 points in a win over Boston on Valentine’s Day.

Nance Jr. has tallied double-figures in five-straight contests, with three double-doubles in the mix – including Wednesday’s win in Denver – finishing with 13 points and 13 boards, going 6-of-10 from the floor while posting three assists and a game-high four steals.

Over that five-game stretch, Nance Jr. is averaging 14.4 points on 64 percent shooting to go with 10.4 boards and 1.4 steals.

Key: Fast Forward

Rodney Hood hasn’t gotten the same fanfare as Larry Nance Jr. when he entered the starting lineup, but he’s 2-0 with a pair of solid performances in his first two starts at small forward.

He tied his best game as a Cavalier on Wednesday in Denver, finishing with 15 points on 6-for-13 shooting to go with two boards and a pair of steals. He’s notched double-digit scoring in each of his starts with Cleveland – averaging 13.0 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.0 steal in those contests.

On Friday night, with LeBron squaring up against Tobias Harris, he’ll likely start out on Wesley Johnson, who’s started four of the last six games for Los Angeles but hasn’t played more than 20 minutes in any of them.

He’s been giving way to third-year man Montrezl Harrell, who’s having a strong second half for the Clippers – notching double-figures in each of his last seven outings, including a 26-point, eight-rebound performance in Tuesday night’s loss to New Orleans.

Over that seven-game stretch, the former Louisville standout is averaging 18.6 points on .717 shooting from the floor.

Key: Bench Trial

Between Harrell and Lou Williams, the Clippers have one of the league’s most potent one-two combos off the bench.

Williams, the former Sixth Man of the Year can score in bunches – notching at least 20 points in 28 of his last 32 games and in 22 of his last 25 off the bench, including a 27-point outburst against the Pelicans on Tuesday. The 31-year-old sharpshooter has also tallied 30 points off the bench 10 times this season.

Williams wasn’t able to work his magic against the Cavaliers earlier this season however, with the Wine & Gold limiting him to 13 points on 5-for-16 shooting.

For the Cavaliers, Jeff Green returned to the lineup on Wednesday night in Denver and finished with 10 points off the bench – his 33rd double-digit performance in a reserve role this season.

Jordan Clarkson was held under double-figures for just the second time in 10 games with the Wine & Gold, but he still ranks second in the league among all bench scorers at 14.2 ppg.

Kyle Korver had a quiet night in Denver, but he’s still 5-for-9 from long-range over his last two appearances. And rookie, Cedi Osman also had a relatively uneventful night at the Pepsi Center, finishing with just three points after netting double-figure scoring in the previous two.

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