Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Five Keys: Cavaliers at Knicks

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

Key: Bite the Big Apple

It wasn’t easy, but the Cavaliers got back on track on Saturday night in Dallas, righting the road trip as it moves to the Big Apple for a Monday night matchup with Kristaps Porzingis and the Knicks.

In Saturday’s win over the Mavericks, the Wine & Gold got off to a slow start, but used a 15-2 run in the third quarter to pull away, bouncing back from a tough loss in Houston.

The surprising Knicks come into the contest at 7-5, having won four of their last five, including a home win over the Kings on Saturday night. New York already has one win against the Wine & Gold this season – a lopsided 114-95 victory at The Q on October 29 in which Tim Hardaway Jr. and Kristaps Porzingis combined for 66 points.

On Monday night, the Knicks will want to show that the late-October win (and their record a dozen games in) is for real. The Cavaliers – who’ve won 10 of their last 11 over New York, including seven straight at the Garden – want to find their identity and start flexing their muscles in the East.

Key: Back in the New York Groove

Going back to his rookie campaign, LeBron James has always loved performing at Madison Square Garden. After his Dennis Smith Jr. comments on Saturday night, the Knicks will come with even more of an attitude, but the King – who’s posted three triple-doubles in his last six appearances against New York – will be ready for the challenge.

On Saturday night, the four-time MVP was solid-but-not-spectacular, finishing with 19 points in 42 minutes of work – going 6-of-14 from the floor, doubling up with 11 rebounds and four assists.

James posted a similar stat line in the first meeting with New York this season – notching 16 points, 10 boards and seven helpers in the loss.

He’ll lock horns with Tim Hardaway Jr. on Monday night. The former Michigan standout is having his best season as a pro – notching double-figures in eight straight games (including his 34-point outburst against Cleveland) before struggling in Saturday’s win over Sacramento, finishing with four points on 2-for-11 shooting.

Key: Rising Star Challenge

There is no doubt that Kristaps Porzingis, in just over two pro seasons, has turned himself into a legitimate MVP candidate.

No Knick over the illustrious history of the franchise has ever posted a better scoring average than the Latvian star has through the first 10 games of the season. So far this year, Porzingis has posted eight games of at least 30 points, including the first 40-point outing of his career – going 15-for-24 in a recent win over the Pacers.

In his last two outings against the Wine & Gold last season, they kept the 7-3 star in check – holding him to a combined 17 points. But he’s a different player this year and was almost impossible to handle in New York’s first win over Cleveland earlier this season, finishing with 32 points on 13-for-27 shooting, adding 12 boards and a pair of blocks.

Kevin Love will probably see plenty of the 22-year-old phenom, but odds are Ty Lue will need to mix and match in order to slow down the NBA’s “unicorn.”

Key: Right from the Shump

After the first two games of the season, the Cavaliers haven’t had much stability at the point, and that trend will continue on Monday night in New York – as Derrick Rose will miss his third straight start (and seventh this season), still nursing a sore left ankle he injured back on October 20 in Milwaukee.

With Rose still on the shelf, Tyronn Lue will stick with Iman Shumpert at the 1. Rose has been solid all season for the Cavs, notching double-figures in every game he’s played, and it’ll be tough for him to watch in civvies against the team he spent last season with.

Not a point guard by trade, Shump has filled in admirably since returning from a sore left knee three games ago. Over that stretch, the seventh-year was a perfect 3-of-3 from the floor against Milwaukee, finished with five assists against Houston and led both teams with three steals against Dallas. In two of those three contests, he didn’t commit a single turnover.

Former Cavalier Jarrett Jack will get the start for New York, but the Knicks are trying to bring along prized rookie, Frank Ntilikina. The No. 8 pick in last June’s Draft is still working it out on the offensive end, but he’s already shown promise as a perimeter defender.

Key: Front and Center

In case anyone was wondering if LeBron James (see KeyBank Key No. 2) will bring his A-Game for the Knicks tonight, on Monday evening Joakim Noah returns to the lineup after serving a 20-game suspension for a performance-enhancing drugs.

The rivalry between LeBron and Noah (and Noah and the Cavaliers) goes way back, and he’ll have the Garden crowd riled up again on Monday night.

Noah’s best days are behind him, but he’ll still provide a nice lift for Enes Kanter, who’s having a very good first season in the middle for New York – averaging a double-double (13.6 ppg, 11.6 rpg) through his first 12 outings, shooting 64 percent from the floor in the process. Kanter also doubled-up in New York’s win over Cleveland earlier this season, finishing with 18 points and 12 rebounds.

Kevin Love will be back in the middle, looking to follow up on Saturday night’s strong showing. Against Dallas, the four-time All-Star led the way with 29 points and a game-high 15 boards, going 11-of-19 from the floor, including 3-of-5 from long-range and 4-of-4 from the stripe. In the October 29 meeting with the Knicks, Love finished with 22 points and 11 boards.

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