Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Five Keys: Cavaliers vs. Kings

David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele
Cavs.com Beat Writer

Key: Kings for a Day

The Cavaliers’ three-game homestand rolls on when they welcome the upstart Sacramento Kings to Cleveland on Friday night.

The Wine & Gold are coming off a Wednesday night loss to the Warriors – hanging with the World Champs for the better part of three quarters before Steph Curry and Co. hit the afterburners in the final period. Cleveland led by six at intermission after scoring 39 points in the second quarter, but Golden State woke up after halftime and outscored the Cavs by 30 – 71-41 – in the second stanza.

The Kings come to town on the second stop of a four-game road trip, having dropped the Suns by 17 on Tuesday night one game after topping the Pacers in Sacramento.

The Kings haven’t been over .500 in the month of December very often in recent years and didn’t win their 12th game of the season until beating the Wine & Gold in their 34th game last year.

The Cavaliers have won five of their last seven overall against the Kings, going 9-3 in their last dozen meetings at The Q. Cleveland would love to continue that trend on Friday night.

Key: Fox on the Run

Among sophomore guards, only Donovan Mitchell and Ben Simmons have put up better scoring and assist numbers in their second season than De’Aaron Fox. And among all guards, Fox joins a group that includes James Harden, Jrue Holiday, John Wall and Russell Westbrook as the only players averaging at least 17.0 points, 3.5 boards, 7.5 assist and 1.3 steals per contest.

The former Kentucky standout has tallied double-figures in all but three games so far this season, topping the 20-point mark on eight occasions, including a 31-point outburst in a win over Atlanta.

Collin Sexton has been getting an early-season education on an almost nightly basis, including Wednesday’s tutorial against Steph Curry.

Even with the two-time MVP going off for 42 points, Sexton was still good on the offensive end, leading the Cavaliers with 21 points on 7-for-14 shooting, including a perfect 3-of-3 from beyond the arc.

The Young Bull, who’s now averaging 17.9 points per in 14 games as a starter, has six 20-plus games of his own so far this year and is shooting .517 from long-range over that stretch.

Key: Chairman of the Boards

In his eighth season out of Texas, Tristan Thompson is having the best year of his career, and with nine rebounds on Friday night, he can move ahead of Hot Rod Williams and into fourth place on the Cavaliers’ all-time list.

If he continues to play like he has, those nine boards won’t be any problem for the blue collar big – who’s coming off his fourth straight double-double, finishing with 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting to go with a game-high 19 boards and three assists.

It was Thompson’s 12th double-double in his last 15 games and his 14th overall this season, placing him 11th in the NBA this year. Over that stretch, Tristan is averaging 14.2 points and 13.6 rebounds per while shooting .559 from the floor. Wednesday’s monster outing was also the seventh time this season that he’s grabbed at least 15 boards.

In his fourth year out of Kentucky, Willie Cauley-Stein is finally fulfilling the promise that made him the sixth overall pick in 2015 – averaging a career-best 14.3 ppg and a team-best 8.2 rpg.

Cauley-Stein has doubled-up on six occasions so far this season, including two of Sacramento’s last three outings.

He also had a solid outing against the Wine & Gold last year – finishing with 17 points, nine boards and four assists, going 8-of-14 from the floor in the Kings’ two-touchdown victory last December in Sacramento.

Key: Buddy System

The Kings’ early-season success isn’t that difficult to figure out; it’s simply a matter of their young players finally fulfilling their promise.

Another one of those youngsters is Buddy Hield, who’s also having the best season of his burgeoning career.

So far this year, Hield – in his third season out of Oklahoma – is averaging a team- and career-high 18.4 points per game and has already posted 10 games of at least 20 points, including Sacramento’s recent win over the Suns.

Hield has had some decent outings against the Wine & Gold, including a 20-point effort in his debut, canning four triples on the night.

Hield will match up against Rodney Hood, who got off to a blistering start on Wednesday night – scoring nine points in the game’s first two minutes – before coming back to earth and finishing with 15 on the night.

The fifth-year swingman from Duke has tallied double-figures in 19 of Cleveland’s first 24 games and has been even better of late – averaging 14.1 points per over his last eight games.

Hood took the collar against the Kings in his rookie season, but he’s been excellent against them ever since, averaging an even 20.0 points per in eight career meetings, topping the 20-point plateau on five occasions and shooting 54 percent from the floor.

Key: Sweet Relief

Over the past week-and-change, the Cavaliers bench has undergone a bit of facelift.

Kyle Korver was traded for Alec Burks, Larry Nance was moved back into a reserve role, Ante Zizic has been on the shelf with a sore knee and Cleveland cut their old two-way players and inked two new ones.

The constant in all this has been Jordan Clarkson, who’s quietly done his thing all year long – leading the squad in scoring with a career-best 16.3 ppg average and netting double-figure scoring in all but two games off the bench so far this year.

Even with a four-point showing against the Timberwolves on November 26, Clarkson’s been even better of late; dating back to the Lakers game, the former Mizzou standout is averaging 17.7 points per – with four 20-point outings – over his last nine games.

On Wednesday night, Nance reached double-figures for the first time since November 26 – finishing with 11 points, eight boards and a pair of assists against Golden State.

And Burks – who had tallied double-figures in his first three games with Cleveland – and flushed home the game-winner on Monday night in Brooklyn – finally slowed down a bit against the Warriors, finishing with nine points on 2-for-10 shooting.

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