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: Heat Check

The Cavaliers have to return from last night’s loss in Motown scratching their heads. But one of the best (and worst) things about the NBA schedule is that there’s little time for reflection – especially with the Miami Heat, hot on Cleveland’s tail in the East, waiting in the wings for a Wednesday night showdown.

The Wine & Gold would love to close the month on a good note, and get back some of the good mojo they built up over the weekend before traveling to Detroit for Tuesday night’s clunker.

In that loss, the shorthanded Pistons – playing without the departed Avery Johnson and Tobias Harris and the newly-acquired Blake Griffin – scored 30-plus in three quarters, manhandled the Cavs in the paint and used a 26-9 run to send Cleveland to the showers with one of the worst losses of the season.

If all the above wasn’t bad enough, the squad also lost Kevin Love – who suffered a broken hand five minutes into the contest.

The Heat come to town winners of two straight and just a half-game behind the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Playoff picture, having dropped the Mavericks in Dallas on Monday.

Cleveland notched an 11-point win over Miami at The Q back on November 28, but these are two different teams these days, and both would love to leave with a win on Wednesday night.

Key: Love on the Rocks

For the second straight year, Kevin Love will have to sit out the All-Star Game after being named a reserve.

Love was having one of his best seasons with the Wine & Gold – averaging 17.9 points and 9.4 boards while posting 27 double-doubles, good for 6th in the NBA.

On Tuesday night, Love took a contested entry pass from Tristan Thompson five minutes into the ballgame, suffering a non-displaced fracture in his left hand fifth metacarpal. He’ll be reevaluated on Wednesday in Cleveland, but he’s sure to be sidelined for a few weeks while it heals.

With Love on the shelf for the foreseeable future, Tyronn Lue will have to mix and match at the 4 – going with Jae Crowder to finish out Tuesday night’s loss in Detroit. If Lue does tab Crowder for the spot, the former second rounder should be up for the task – averaging 10.5 points per over his last six games, notching double-digit scoring in four of them.

If Lue decides to go big and move Channing Frye into the starting five, he’s also been rock-solid of late: coming off a season-high 20-point effort last night in the Motor City – going 4-of-7 from long-range and 6-of-9 from the floor overall.

The last time these two teams squared off, Love led everyone with 38 points. The Wine & Gold will have to cobble something comparable together this evening – and then again for the next few weeks.

Key: Changing of the Guard

It’s never really a good thing when the point guard position is in flux. And even as things seemed to be taking shape at the head of the snake for Cleveland, more questions arise after each game.

Isaiah Thomas has been decent scoring the ball, but he’d be the first to admit that he hasn’t found his rhythm, going 3-of-10 from the floor in last night’s loss and shooting just 36 percent from the field over his last four games. And although he was deadline from the stripe – going 12-for-13 – Thomas was turnover-prone once again, committing six miscues compared to five assists.

Derrick Rose, who was outstanding in Friday night’s win over Indiana, saw just eight minutes of action on Sunday night and picked up a DNP on Tuesday. And Jose Calderon’s rock-solid run in December seems like a distant memory, having been relegated to garbage time since Thomas’ and Rose’s return.

The Heat have no such problem, with Goran Dragic leading the squad in scoring (17.0 ppg) and assists (4.8 apg).

The 45th pick of the 2008 Draft, Dragic has struggled over his past two outings (and was terrible in the November 28 meeting in Cleveland) but he’s still one of the more dangerous point men in the East – having topped the 20-point plateau in 19 games already this season.

Key: The Ex- Factor

The intensity that used to surround a Cavaliers-Heat matchup has since dissipated – particularly with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade both members of the Wine & Gold.

If the Cavs are going to work their way out of this year’s January funk, it’s going to take both veterans to lead the team out of it.

James was good on Tuesday night in Detroit, but he never seemed to find that extra gear – still managing to lead the squad with 21 points, going 9-for-20 from the floor to go with a team-high seven assists, six boards and a block. He went for 21 and 12 in Cleveland’s win over Miami earlier this year, but he hasn’t had huge success against his old squad since his return – with that November win improving his record to 5-4 against the Heat since his return.

In terms of big returns, Dwyane Wade returned from a two-game personal absence with a stellar performance in Tuesday night’s loss – finishing with 18 points on 6-for-8 shooting, adding eight boards and five assists.

Wade was part of a Cavs second unit that tallied 62 points. And that group of reserves will have to be on-point again as the Wine & Gold try to compensate for Kevin Love’s production.

Key: Tall Order

Tristan Thompson is another Cavalier who’ll have to up his game during the absence of Love.

On Tuesday night, he had more than his hands full with All-Star center Andre Drummond, who posted a monster game in the win – going off for 21 points, 22 boards, seven assists, three steals and three blocks.

Thompson did his blue-collar work, leading Cleveland with 10 boards – his second game in the last three of double-digit rebounds.

The seventh-year big man from Texas was still nursing a calf injury the last time Miami rolled into town, so tonight will be his first matchup of the year against Hassan Whiteside, who’s put up some monster games of his own this year – including a 25-point, 14-rebound performance in Monday night’s win over the Mavericks.

As he’s been for most opponents over the past few years, Whiteside has been a thorn in Cleveland’s side – averaging 15.2 points and 13.5 boards over his last six meetings, doubling up in five of them.

In the first matchup this year, he was forced to chase Love out beyond the arc, but he won’t have that problem tonight. Tristan (and likely, Channing Frye) will have to make him work on Wednesday night if they hope to win their third straight home game and close the month with some good vibrations.

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