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Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Five Keys: Cavaliers at Lakers

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

Key: Tinseltown Tussle

The Cavaliers six-game junket rolls into Tinseltown for a Sunday night showdown as the Wine & Gold try to snap a 12-game losing streak.

Over the past five seasons, the Cavs have gone 4-1 at STAPLES Center. Of course, the Cavaliers had LeBron James in tow for those visits, and won’t tonight. The good news is: neither will the Lakers, with the four-time MVP set to miss his 11th straight game on Sunday evening.

On Friday night in Houston, Cleveland allowed 140 points for the second straight game as the Rockets dismantled Larry Drew’s shorthanded squad in the opening period – shooting 61 percent to take a 20-point edge after one – and never looked back. James Harden notched his second 40-point performance of the year against Cleveland, piling up a 43-point triple-double in just three quarters of work.

The Lakers have gone 3-7 since James injured his groin in a Christmas Day blowout of the Warriors and don’t expect their leader back until later this week. L.A. had won two straight before being clobbered on Friday night in Salt Lake City, with Donovan Mitchell going off for 33 points and no Laker finishing with more than 17.

The Cavs dropped a hard-fought 109-105 battle to the Lakers earlier this season at The Q.

If they come with that same effort on Sunday evening, they might have a chance to snap their skid heading into the second half of the trip.

Key: The Young Cedi

We know that LeBron James won’t suit up for Sunday’s rematch at STAPLES Center, but the sophomore that’s been filling in for him has been a reasonable facsimile on several nights since.

Kyle Kuzma posted an 11-point clunker on Friday night in Utah, but went off for 41 points in his previous contest and has been very good as both a starter and reserve all season long – netting 20-plus points on 14 occasions, 30-plus three more times and his 41-point outburst in a home win over the Pistons.

In two meetings with the Wine & Gold last season, Kuzma has posted a 20-point night in the first meeting and doubled-up in the next, but Cleveland kept him in check earlier this campaign – holding him to 12 points on 4-of-9 shooting.

In that contest back on November 21, fellow sophomore Cedi Osman got the better of Kuzma – finishing with a team-high 21 points on 7-for-13 shooting, including 5-of-7 from long-range to go with seven boards and a pair of assists.

Osman is coming off a 15-point performance in Friday’s loss in Houston and has tallied double-figures in 12 of his last 14 games.

Key: Tall Order

In his first season with the Lakers and 11th in the league, JaVale McGee is having somewhat of a career resurgence, staring all 36 contests he’s appeared in, tying his career-best in scoring and currently second in the Western Conference – behind only Anthony Davis – in blocks per game.

At .606, he also ranks 6th in the league in field goal percentage. He’s not expected to score much for the Lakers, but he’s still posted 18 games of double-figures, including three 20-point showings this season.

In the November 21 meeting at The Q, McGee hit all six shots he attempted – finishing with 12 points, five boards and a game-high three blocks in the win.

On Sunday night, he’ll lock horns with Tristan Thompson – who’s coming off a frustrating performance on Friday night in Houston, finishing with just six points for the second straight game.

The blue-collar big has grabbed double-digit boards in four of the six games since returning from a foot injury, and he did so as well in the late-November loss to L.A. – grabbing a game-high 15 rebounds to go with 14 points on 7-of-17 shooting.

Key: On the Ball

One year ago, Lonzo Ball went through some of the same growing pains at the point that Cavs rookie Collin Sexton is right now.

One of the better young two-way guards in the Conference, Ball has been up and down in his sophomore season.

This past week has been a perfect microcosm of that inconsistency – finishing with 21 points in a win over the Mavericks, one game after taking the collar against the Timberwolves. In the two games since, Ball has gone for five and seven points, respectively – although he did lead both teams with 11 assists in a win over Detroit.

Ball had one of his good nights in the previous meeting against the Cavs this year – finishing with 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting to go with seven boards and six assists.

Ball got the better of his rookie counterpart in that game, holding Collin Sexton to 12 points on 5-for-12 shooting.

In Friday’s loss to the Rockets, the Young Bull registered 14 points and a team-high-tying five assists – his 36th game this season with double-figure scoring.

In a season riddled with injuries, Sexton is the only Cavalier to play in all 43 games and heads into tonight’s contest as the top free throw shooter (.884) among all rookies.

Key: A to Z

Despite the squad’s recent woes, the Wine & Gold’s bench has been excellent all season long, and especially of late.

One game after combining for 75 points in the Big Easy, the Cavaliers second unit went for 59 points against the Rockets on Friday – their third straight of 50-plus.

Against Houston, a reserve led the squad in scoring, but for a change, it wasn’t Jordan Clarkson. Ante Zizic – getting some extended run with Larry Nance Jr. on the shelf – notched a season-high 18 points and eight boards, going 6-of-8 from the floor and 6-of-6 from the stripe, adding a pair of steals in 24 minutes of work off the bench.

Clarkson still tallied double-figures in that contest, finishing with 12 points on 5-for-15 shooting.

Clarkson was outstanding against his former squad earlier this season – finishing with 20 points and a team-high-tying five assists in the loss, going 4-of-8 from long-range. Since December 12, the fifth-year man is averaging 19.2 points per game.

Jalen Jones was the third Cavalier to tally double-figure scoring off the bench on Friday – adding 12 points in 20 minutes of work, going 3-of-5 from beyond the arc.

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