Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Five Keys: Cavaliers vs. Heat

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

Key: Home for the Heat

After running their road record to 6-1 this month – while extending their winning streak to eight games on Monday night in Philly – the Wine & Gold return home for their first back-to-back in over a month, hosting the Heat for the first time this season.

Against Philadelphia, the Cavaliers utilized a hot start from LeBron James and a big effort by the bench, blowing open the game to end the third quarter and coasting to their 10th straight win over the up-and-coming Sixers.

On Tuesday night at The Q, the Cavaliers take on another hot squad, with Miami coming to town having won three straight – including wins over Boston at home, Minnesota and Chicago as part of their current four-game roadie.

As good as the Cavaliers have been against the East since LeBron’s return, the Heat have been a team that’s been difficult to solve – taking three of the last four against Cleveland last season.

Once again, the veteran-laden Cavaliers will try to prove to another young challenger that they’re still the top dogs in the Conference – and Eric Spoelstra’s squad is trying to prove that the second half of last season was no fluke.

Key: Heat Check

As odd as it was for LeBron James to suit up against the Cavs in his first few times facing his former club as a member of the Heat, it’ll be even stranger for Dwyane Wade to take on the franchise he built his future Hall of Fame resume with.

Wade spent the first 13 seasons in South Beach, winning three titles (2006, 2012, 2013) with the Heat before signing with Chicago last summer. The 12-time All-Star is in a different stage of his career now and even though he’s not the dynamic athlete he once was, he’s been excellent in his new role coming off the bench with the Wine & Gold.

On Monday night in Philly, Wade paced three reserves in double figures – finishing with 15 points on 5-for-12 shooting, adding five assists, four boards and a game-high two blocks.

The former Marquette star has notched double-figures in four of his last five outings and is averaging 12.4 points, 5.3 boards and 4.1 assists over the course of Cleveland’s eight-game streak, running the second unit to perfection in the process.

On Tuesday, he’ll face a familiar face for Cavalier fans when Dion Waiters rolls into The Q. The No. 4 overall pick of the 2012 Draft, Waiters is currently Miami’s second-leading scorer, but even with his career reinvigorated with the Heat, he’s still prone to inconsistency – bookended a pair of strong performance against Boston and Minnesota with a scoreless, 0-for-10 outing against the Pacers and a seven-point performance against the Bulls.

Key: Long Live the King

LeBron James can beat a team in any number of ways.

Two games ago, in Cleveland’s home win over Brooklyn, James scored 23 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter for the victory. In the Cavaliers’ recent road victories over the Pistons and Sixers, the four-time MVP set the tone early – scoring 16 points in the opening period against Detroit and netting 15 in the first quarter last night in Philly.

In Monday's victory in Philly, the King finished with 30 points in 31 minutes of work, leading both squads with 14 boards and six assists – posting his ninth 30-point performance of the season.

LeBron split two of the four meetings with Miami last season and in the eight times he’s faced the Heat since returning to Cleveland, James only sports a 4-4 mark.

On Tuesday night, Number 23 will start off against Justise Winslow, who’s struggled to find his rhythm so far in his third season. The 10th overall pick by Miami in 2015, Winslow showed great promise as a rookie and was off to a strong start before a season-ending injury early last year. But this season, despite being moved into the starting lineup back on November 5, Winslow has struggled offensively – tallying double-figures just four times in 19 games this season.

Key: Center of Attention

If Kevin Love was hoping for a short respite after having taken on Joel Embiid on Monday, he certainly won’t get it against Miami on Tuesday night at The Q.

The Heat bring one of the toughest defensive centers in the league to Cleveland for the showdown between streaking teams in Hassan Whiteside – Miami’s third-leading scorer (15.2) who also leads the team in rebounding (12.6) and blocks (1.64).

Whiteside has grabbed double-digit boards in nine of the 14 games he’s played this season, including a pair of 20-rebound outings.

The 33rd pick of the 2010 Draft by Sacramento, Whiteside has doubled-up in four of his last five meetings with Cleveland – averaging 16.0 points and 13.4 boards over that span.

On Tuesday night, he’ll be up against Love – who had a quiet night in Philadelphia but who’s been very good all season – leading Cleveland with 13 double-doubles, including four of the last five leading up to tonight’s matchup with Miami. In Love’s last two matchups against the Heat he’s done very well – averaging 26.5 points and 12.5 boards – but he’ll be coming at Eric Spoelstra’s squad from the center spot on Tuesday.

Key: Guarded Optimism

Hassan Whiteside is a load in the middle and Dion Waiters can be a handful when he gets warmed up, but Miami’s biggest offensive threat comes from the point, where Goran Dragic once against leads the squad in scoring.

The 10th year guard from Yugoslavia has scored in double-figures in every game but two for the Heat so far this season – topping the 20-point plateau in each of Miami’s last three wins.

Dragic has been just as difficult for the Wine & Gold – having scored in double-figures in each of the last 15 meetings, including all four matchups last season.

On Tuesday night, he’ll start off against Jose Calderon, who’s gotten the Cavaliers out of the gate very well over his four-game starting stint. In Monday’s win over Philly, Calderon didn’t dent the scorer’s column, but finished with five helpers – one off the team lead – while snagging a pair of steals and committing just a single miscue in 22 minutes of work.

Iman Shumpert returned from a sore right knee that had sidelined him for a week, but only saw seven minutes of action against the Sixers. If he’s healthy, the Wine & Gold might need Shump’s perimeter defense against one of the craftiest point guards in the East on Tuesday night.

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