Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Five Keys: Cavaliers at Kings

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

Key: Crowning Achievement

After falling to the Warriors in the eagerly-awaited Christmas Day showdown in Oakland, the Wine & Gold can return to their regularly-schedule programming as the road trips rolls on – stopping in California’s capital for a Wednesday night meeting with the Kings.

On Christmas Day, the Wine & Gold posted one of their worst offensive performance s of the season – shooting just 32 percent from the floor, getting just 21 combined points from the bench and committing more turnovers (14) than assists (12). Despite all that, the game still came down to some (questionable) calls in the closing moments.

The Kings are coming off back-to-back drubbings – including a 27-point loss on Tuesday night to the Clippers.

Tonight’s meeting wraps up the season series between these two teams – with the Wine & Gold dropping the Kings back at The Q on December 6, overcoming a two-touchdown deficit to win for the fifth time in their last six meetings with Sacramento.

Key: Back to the Future

When LeBron James made his career debut in Sacramento 15 seasons ago, the jury was still out whether the hoops prodigy from Akron would be able to live up to the hype. He’s done that and then some over the course of his Hall of Fame career. What’s amazing is how well he’s still doing it a decade-and-a-half later, three days away from his 33rd birthday.

James didn’t have his best game against Golden State – finishing with 20 points, but posting more turnovers (7) than either boards or assists (6).

But the King has always performed well against Cleveland’s next opponent – posting a double-double in five straight games vs. Sacramento – including a game-high 32-point performance in the December 6 win, going 12-for-18 from the floor, including 5-of-8 from beyond the arc to go with 11 boards, a game-best nine assists, three steals and a pair of blocks.

In those five games, Numeral 23 has posted two triple-doubles – averaging 23.6 points, 9.4 boards, and 10.2 assists against the Kings over that stretch.

Key: Middle Men

Just before Christmas, the Kings won back-to-back games for just the second time this season – dropping Brooklyn and Philadelphia to wrap up a four-game roadie. And even though they’ve lost their last two, they’ve definitely improved with third-year big man Willie Cauley-Stein in the starting lineup.

The former Kentucky standout started the first 14 games of the season before moving to the bench, but he’s been returned as a starter over his last five games – posting double-digits in four of them, including a 22-point, 11-rebound effort in a nine-point loss to the Spurs.

He’ll be squaring off against a red-hot Kevin Love, who’s coming off one of his best games of the season – going off for 31 points and a season-high 18 boards in the loss. Over the last seven games, Love has hit at least four three-pointers in six of them, including a 20-for-38 mark over a four-game run.

And dating back to the end of November, the four-time All-Star is shooting 49 percent from long-distance, averaging 23.8 points and 10.8 boards over that 13-game stretch.

Key: Point of Contention

The Kings have committed to their youth movement and one of the bright spots early this season has been De’Aaron Fox, who’s been putting together a solid rookie campaign before a lower back injury sidelined him over the past couple weeks.

With Fox on the shelf, the Kings have turned to another first-year point guard, Frank Mason III, who’s had some strong performances off the bench this year for Sacramento (although he’s mired in a major slump of late, going just 4-for-25 from the floor over his last three games).

George Hill has provided some veteran leadership for the Kings, and although his three-point shooting’s improved, his scoring and assist numbers have been down this season.

The Cavaliers are taking their time with Isaiah Thomas, who’s getting closer but won’t see action against the squad that drafted him with the final pick of the 2011 Draft. In the meantime, Jose Calderon keeps plugging along as Cleveland’s starter – taking a 15-4 record into tonight’s matchup in Sacramento.

Calderon couldn’t keep up the torrid offensive pace he was on a couple weeks ago, but he’s still been uber-efficient running the team – piling up 33 assists to just seven turnovers over his last 11 games.

Key: Buddy Love

Second-year shooting guard Buddy Hield was the centerpiece of the deal that sent DeMarcus Cousins to New Orleans, and he’s been solid for the Kings all season.

He (was) also one of the reasons the Kings have the top scoring bench in the league at 48.7 points per. (Sacramento’s second unit also leads the Association in assists [10.8], rebounds [20.1] and steals [4.4].) Sacramento’s bench has outscored its opponents’ in all but four games so far this season and have twice set an NBA record – with their bench scoring 29 straight points before a starter scored a single one.

But those numbers are likely to dip as Hield has been inserted into the starting lineup over the past two games – performing admirably despite the back-to-back losses.

The Cavaliers bench had an uncharacteristically poor showing on Monday afternoon in Oakland – combining for just 21 points, almost 20 below their season average. Dwyane Wade – who finished with 13 points on 4-for-11 shooting – was the only reserve in double-figures.

Even with the loss, Wade remains the winningest NBA player in Christmas Day history and he comes into tonight’s contest having notched double-digit scoring in five of his last six outings, including each of the last three. On the year, the 12-time All-Star is averaging 12.0 points per off the bench – good for 9th among all reserves this season.