Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Five Keys: Cavaliers at Magic

Fernando Medina/NBAE/Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor

Key: Magic Touch

Despite having the second-best record in the NBA since November 11, the Wine & Gold come into tonight’s matchup in Orlando trying to shake out of a mini-funk – having dropped four of their last five, including their last four away from The Q.

This isn’t the most encouraging trend, considering they have another four games remaining on their current trip. Fortunately, that quartet of foes begins with an Orlando Magic team that’s dropped 23 of their last 27 games – 14 of those losses by double-digits.

The Cavaliers are coming off a tough loss on Wednesday night, dropping their rematch with Boston at the TD Garden. In the loss, Cleveland shot just 34 percent from the floor, trailing by double-digits after one quarter and unsuccessfully chasing the Celtics for the next three in the 102-88 loss.

The Magic are coming off one of those double-digit losses, having been blown out by the Rockets, 116-98, on Wednesday night at the Amway Center.

The Wine & Gold had their 17-game win streak over Orlando snapped earlier this season at The Q. Both teams are much different these days, and the Cavaliers need a win on Saturday to right the roadie and return to their winning ways.

Key: Debut, Part II

The Cavaliers’ visit to Boston earlier this week had all the expected surrounding hype – even without Isaiah Thomas in the lineup after making his Wine & Gold debut the previous evening. Thomas got a nice standing ovation from the Beantown crowd, but he would’ve traded that for an opportunity to torment his former squad, but he’ll have another chance when Cleveland returns on February 11.

But the East’s reigning scoring leader will get his second run of the season on Saturday night – and this time he’ll be in the starting lineup.

In Tuesday night’s win over Portland, I.T. was electric in 19 action-packed minutes off the bench, finishing with 17 points on 6-for-12 shooting, including 3-of-6 from long-range and 2-of-4 from the stripe, adding three assists in the win.

Thomas will tangle with Orlando’s well-coiffed point man, Elfrid Payton, who’s notched double-figures in 11 of his last 13 games – including a 30-point, 10-assist performance against John Wall and the Wizards on December23.

Payton was out with a hamstring injury and Jose Calderon was Cleveland’s starter the first two times these two teams locked up. We’re in for an entirely different kind of show on Saturday.

Key: Facing Forward

In Wednesday night’s loss in Boston, LeBron James led the Wine & Gold with 19 points. Normally, that’d be good enough to be competitive. The problem was that James netted 16 of those points before intermission and the rest of Cleveland’s four starters combined for just 24 points in the lopsided loss.

But the East’s two-time reigning Player of the Month – who averaged 27.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, 10.3 assists and 1.93 steals and piled up five triple-doubles in December – has always found his mojo in the Magic Kingdom, including Cleveland’s last visit when he registered a 24-point, 12-rebound, 12-assist triple-double, going 8-of-14 from the floor in a 116-101 win here last March.

LeBron’s success against the Magic dates back to his Christmas Day debut against them as a rookie and extends to his recent reincarnation as a Cavalier – having posted triple-doubles in two of his last three meetings with the Magic and a team-high 22-point effort in Cleveland’s surprising loss to Orlando at The Q back in late October.

James won’t have any easy night on the defensive end, however, having to lock horns for much of the evening with Aaron Gordon – one of Orlando’s bright spots this season. The uber-athletic fourth-year forward is averaging a career-best 18.8 points per this season, having topped the 20-point plateau in nine games this season – including 40-point outbursts against Brooklyn and Oklahoma City.

Key: Blue-Collar Bench

Even Tyronn Lue’s second unit combining for 45 points wasn’t enough to get Cleveland past Boston on Wednesday night – as the Wine & Gold fell to 0-5 this season when scoring less than 100 points.

But while the squad as a whole is mired in a slump, the bench has continued to produce – averaging 50.0 points per over the last three games as they continue to rank among the league’s top 5.

Jeff Green has been especially good over that stretch, netting double-figures in all three contests – averaging 15.0 points and 4.0 boards while shooting 92 percent (23-of-25) from the stripe. Kyle Korver shook out of a mini-slump himself, canning five triples in Wednesday’s loss in Boston. Korver comes into tonight’s contest ranked 2nd among all NBA reserves with 93 made three-pointers.

But perhaps the most welcome sight off the bench in Boston was Tristan Thompson – who posted his first double-double of the season (one night after posting his first double-digit scoring performance). In the 12-point loss, Thompson finished with 10 points and a game-high 11 rebounds, going 3-for-5 from the field, adding two assists and a block.

Key: Big Man Blues

Orlando has been a good location for the Wine & Gold to get well over the past few years. In their last eight visits to the Magic Kingdom, they’ve won by an average of 16.4 points – shooting .514 from the floor, including .427 from long-range, handing out 25.0 assists per over that stretch. The Cavs have shot at least 50 percent in each of their last four visits.

The continuation of that trend would do the Cavaliers well on Saturday night – especially for Kevin Love and Jae Crowder, who’d love to wash the stink of a combined 3-for-23 night off from Wednesday night in Boston.

Love, who left the Boston loss in the second half with a sprained right ankle, won’t have to deal with Orlando’s excellent big man, Nikola Vucevic – the Magic’s second-leading scoring and top rebounder – who’s missed the last five games after suffering a fractured metacarpal in his left hand in late December.

Vucevic has had some big games against the Cavaliers in the past – including a team-high 23-point effort in Orlando’s victory over the Cavs in Cleveland back in October.

With the former USC standout on the shelf, Bismack Biyombo – who’s had some success against the Wine & Gold as well – will likely get the start for Orlando.

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