Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Five Keys: Cavaliers vs. Hawks

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

Key: Bird Watching

After looking more like themselves – and LeBron James looking superhuman – on Friday night in D.C., the Wine & Gold return home for a Sunday afternoon affair against the struggling Hawks.

The Cavs came into their marquee matchup with Washington having dropped four straight – and the King was not about to keep that meter running, going off for 57 points – going 23-of-34 from the floor in 42 minutes of action. As a team, Tyronn Lue’s squad shot 77 percent in the opening period, avoiding the slow starts that had plagued them through the four-game skein, pulling ahead of the tough-talking Wizards late in the first quarter and holding on for the much-needed 130-122 win.

The Hawks – who won 60 games and faced Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Finals three seasons ago – are now in full rebuilding mode. After winning its opener against Dallas, Atlanta has dropped eight straight coming into today’s matinee at The Q.

The Hawks stung the Cavaliers twice late last season, and beat them by 16 at home during preseason, so Cleveland won’t take them lightly this afternoon.

Key: November Reign

On Friday night, LeBron James was a force of nature – dropping 50-plus for the first time since returning to Cleveland and posting the second-highest scoring total of his illustrious NBA career.

James, who played all 24 minutes of the second half, bookended his brilliant performance – notching 15 points in the first quarter and 19 in the fourth. Overall, the four-time MVP was 23-of-34 from the floor, including 2-of-4 from long-range, and a perfect 9-of-9 from the stripe. He led both squads with 11 boards and the Cavs with seven assists while adding three steals and a pair of blocks.

In the previous contest against Indiana, he became the fifth player since 1963 to post 400 games of 30-plus points and on Friday he notched his 800th straight game of double-digit scoring while also reaching the 29,000-point mark for his career – becoming just the seventh player in league history to do so.

On Sunday, James will match up against one of the bright spots for Atlanta – second-year forward Taurean Prince – who’s doubled his scoring average from a season ago and has tallied double-figures in seven of the Hawks’ first nine games.

Key: Straight to the Point

The Hawks still have a couple holdovers from the team that reached the postseason in the previous 10 seasons – with the biggest name of the bunch being Dennis Schroeder, Atlanta’s leading scorer and assist man.

The fifth-year guard from Germany has upped his scoring average in each season and he comes into Sunday’s contest scoring at a 21.7 ppg clip – having scored at least 20 points in five of his seven appearances this season.

In 20 regular season and Playoff games against the Wine & Gold, Schroeder’s had some big performances, averaging 19.8 points per in his last four meetings with Cleveland.

He’ll be busy on Sunday afternoon, taking on a revived Derrick Rose, who had his best offensive showing as a Cavalier on Friday night in D.C. Like LeBron, Rose got off to a great start – hitting six of his first seven shots and finishing the night with 20 points on 8-for-16 shooting.

The former MVP has now notched double-figures in all five appearances this season, averaging 16.0 points per on 51 percent shooting from the floor.

Key: Stick the Jae

On Friday night, Tyronn Lue was forced to make another lineup change – moving Kevin Love back to the middle after Tristan Thompson strained his left calf in the first half of Wednesday’s loss to Indiana, sidelining him for up to a month.

Lue also re-inserted Jae Crowder into the starting lineup after coming off the bench in the previous three games – and the sixth-year forward made the move pay off, posting his best two-way performance as a Cavalier, finishing with 17 points on 4-for-7 shooting, including an 8-of-8 mark from the stripe to go with seven boards, two steals and an assist.

Crowder had struggled in those three games off the bench, shooting just 27 percent from the floor, but he was engaged and energetic on both ends in Friday’s win and will look to keep that roll going against Atlanta at The Q. Crowder’s had good success against the Hawks in the recent past – averaging 17.6 points over his last five meetings against Mike Budenholzer’s squad.

Key: Shooter's Touch

The Hawks will see a familiar face at the scorer’s table at some point this afternoon when Kyle Korver checks in for the Cavaliers.

Korver – who’s been the NBA’s top three-point percentage shooter in three of the past four seasons, spent four-and-a-half years with Atlanta before being traded to the Wine & Gold last January. This season, the 15th-year sharpshooter is up to his old tricks, shooting 48 percent from long-range so far, despite going 3-for-10 from deep over his past two games.

Korver finished with eight points off the bench in relief of J.R. Smith on Friday night.

Swish is still looking to snap out of a funk that’s been lingering back into last season. So far this year, Smith has just two double-digit performances, is shooting 27 percent from the floor, including 21 percent from beyond the arc. On Friday night, he was the only starter not to notch double-figures, going 1-for-3 for three points in 29 minutes of work.

There’s still a long, long way to go this season, but the Cavaliers would love Smith to rediscover his shooting stroke at some point soon.