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 having their 13-game win streak snapped on Friday night in Indiana, the Wine & Gold bounced right back the following night – pulling away from a scrappy Sixers squad on Saturday at The Q.

The Cavaliers’ four-game homestand rolls on when they welcome Dennis Schroder and the Hawks to Cleveland for the two teams third meeting of the young season.

Saturday’s win was the Cavaliers’ eighth straight at home and 11th straight over the Sixers – riding LeBron James’ triple-double and another big performance from the bench to run their record to 14-1 since November 11, best in the Association over that span.

The Hawks come to town tied for the worst record in the league (6-20), although one of those six wins has come against the Cavaliers – an embarrassing two-point loss at The Q that Cleveland avenged by dropping Atlanta by seven in late-November.

As they did on that night in Atlanta, the Wine & Gold will want to take care of business early on Tuesday night at The Q.

Key: Don't Call It a Comeback

Already the hottest team in the East, the Cavaliers should start getting some of their injured players back.

Guards Isaiah Thomas and Derrick Rose continue to rehab their way into game shape and on Tuesday night, Tristan Thompson could return to lineup after missing the previous 19 games with a calf injury.

Thompson’s season had already gotten off to a strange start: he started the first three games of the season before moving to the bench for the next five – averaging just 4.4 points and 6.4 boards. In a loss to Indiana on November 1, Thompson – who set the franchise record after playing in 447 straight contests – limped off the floor in the first half and hasn’t seen action since.

Kevin Love, who started the season at center and returned after Thompson went down, has been excellent in the middle over that stretch.

He’s been especially good of late – averaging 24.2 points and 11.5 boards over his last six games. In Cleveland’s most recent win over Atlanta, the four-time All-Star finished with 25 points and a season-high-tying 16 rebounds in 33 minutes of work.

Key: The King Continues

The one constant in Cleveland’s ever-changing universe this season has been the play of LeBron James – who won his last MVP trophy after the 2012-13 season but is looking every bit the part again here in 2017-18.

In Saturday night’s win over the Sixers, James notched his third triple-double of the season and 58th of his illustrious career, tallying 30 points, 13 boards and 13 assists – scoring or assisting each of Cleveland’s final 22 points and adding a team-best three steals. James is also one triple-double shy of tying Larry Bird for 6th-most in NBA history.

James has played facilitator in the Wine & Gold’s first two games against the Hawks this season – averaging 25 points and 12.5 assists. In the Cavaliers’ November 30 at Philips Arena, he finished with 24 points, 12 helpers, six boards, two steals and a pair of blocks.

LeBron will spend most of his defensive energy checking the improved Taurean Prince, who’s notched double-figure scoring in 19 of his 26 appearances while more than doubling his scoring average in his second season out of Baylor.

Key: Improving Import

Even with the Hawks in the early stages of rebuilding, there’s one player who’s just as effective now as when the Cavaliers were battling Atlanta in the postseason two seasons ago.

Dennis Schroder has been one of the bright spots in an otherwise difficult season in the Dirty South – leading the team in scoring (20.4) and assists (6.4) and is one of just two players since the 1993 Draft (along with the Greek Freak) who’s increased his production in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks in each of the next three seasons following his rookie year.

Schroder has been a thorn in the Cavaliers’ side dating back to those postseason matchups, but he’s been just as troublesome this year – averaging 27.5 points and 7.0 assists on 63 percent shooting, including 43 percent from long-range and a perfect 12-of-12 from the stripe.

With Isaiah Thomas and Derrick Rose still on the mend, the Cavaliers will stick with Jose Calderon at the starting point. The 13-year vet, who’s now 10-2 as a starter with Cleveland, is coming off a pair of solid outings – averaging 8.5 points on 60 percent shooting while committing just a single miscue in each game.

Key: Mob Mentality

In the Cavaliers first win over the Sixers this season, their bench actually outscored the starters, 57-56. On Saturday night, one game after combining for just 23 points in a loss to the Pacers, Cleveland’s second unit was right back at it – totaling 48 of the team’s 105 points.

Jeff Green, Dwyane Wade and Kyle Korver netted 13 points apiece – with Green going 5-of-8 from the floor, adding six boards and a pair of steals, Wade going 6-for-10 and adding four helpers and Korver hitting on 4-of-8 three-point attempts, canning two in the final period.

All three have been huge this season for the Wine & Gold.

Green is averaging an even 12.0 points on 55 percent shooting over his last six games, Wade is 8th in the NBA, averaging 12.3 points off the bench and Korver leads all NBA reserves in three-pointers made (68) and plus/minus (+196).

The Hawks counter off the bench with Marco Belinelli, who finished with 18 points off the bench in Atlanta’s November 30 loss to Cleveland, as well as rookie Tyler Cavanaugh and 8th-year veteran Luke Babbitt, who’s having his best offensive season as a pro.

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