Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Five Keys: Cavaliers at Magic

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

Key: Sunshine Statement

It seems like over these last few weeks, every time the Wine & Gold are coming off a tough loss, the Orlando Magic are there for a bounce-back opportunity. But this is also a Magic team that’s already toppled Cleveland at The Q, has eaten away big Cavalier leads in the last two losses and is 4-5 over its last nine games – including a rare road win on Monday night in Miami.

For the Cavaliers, even considering their recent struggles, there isn’t a more friendly opposing venue anywhere in the East, having gone 9-1 in their last 10 trips to the Amway Center – winning by an average of 15.0 points per – and taking 19 of their last 20 meetings overall.

Tyronn Lue’s squad would sure love a 15-point win on Tuesday night to wipe the taste out of their mouths from Saturday’s wire-to-wire home drubbing by the Rockets. In that loss, the team that’s reached three straight NBA Finals was booed off the court.

The 16-36 Magic present a perfect opportunity for the Cavs to try and build some momentum heading towards the All-Star Break, but they’ll have to better than they’ve been against a young team that smells blood in the water.

Key: Heavy is the Head

LeBron James has been at the center of all things Wine & Gold for most of the past decade-and-a-half, and he’s been through some rough patches in each of his two incarnations as a Cavalier.

But this one feels different – even to him. And if Cleveland is going to emerge from their massive mid-season funk, it’s going to be Numeral 23 that likely leads them out of it.

That wasn’t the case on Saturday night, when James posted his fourth sub-20-point game in his last 12 outings – finishing with 11 points on 3-for-10 shooting, though still managing to lead the team with nine boards and nine assists. Over the last three games, LeBron is shooting just .396 from the floor – including less than 50 percent in each of those contests – after doing so just three times in his first 27 games of this season.

James barely missed a triple-double in his last visit to Orlando – finishing with 33 points on 12-for-23 shooting, adding a team-best 10 boards, game-high nine assists and season-high six steals.

On top of that, James won’t have to deal with Orlando’s high-flying forward, Aaron Gordon, who’ll miss his fifth straight game (as well as this year’s Dunk Contest) with a strained hip flexor.

Key: Reserve Judgement

When a team’s mired in a regular season slide, it’s always important to look for a silver lining to build on. And all season long, the Wine & Gold’s second unit has been exactly that – oftentimes out-performing Cleveland’s starters.

Like the rest of the squad, however, the group was ineffective against Houston, combining for 15-for-38 shooting in the blowout loss.

But overall, they’ve been one of the league’s best – averaging 41.0 points per this season, good for 6th-best.

On Saturday night, Dwyane Wade posted his 27th double-figure scoring effort of the season (and passed Gary Payton for 31st on the NBA’s all-time scoring list), but he’s listed as questionable for Tuesday’s contest after missing morning shootaround while under the weather.

Channing Frye slowed down on Saturday after averaging 18.0 points over his previous two games and Jeff Green is currently stuck in a mid-season slump of his own – failing to reach double-figures in five of his last six outings after doing so in five of the previous six before that. After hitting multiple threes in the previous three games, Kyle Korver struggled on Saturday night – going 1-of-4 from long-distance.

The law of averages says that Cleveland’s bench is due for a bounce-back game – and Tuesday night would be a perfect chance to do so.

Key: Sharpened to a Point

At some point before the Break, the Cavaliers would love to see Isaiah Thomas turn the corner.

Since his return at the start of the calendar year, Thomas has been consistently inconsistent – scoring the ball at a decent clip, but plagued by poor shooting, turnovers and defensive difficulties.

Pinning the Wine & Gold’s woes on Thomas hasn’t been fair to the two-time All-Star, but he’ll need to find his form if the Cavaliers are going to find theirs. Even with those recent struggles, Thomas has still posted double-figure scoring in each of his last nine games and is averaging 20.0 points in two meetings against the Magic this year.

On Tuesday night, Thomas will match up with Orlando’s Elfrid Payton, who’s led the team in assists on 27 occasions this season and has notched double-figure scoring in seven of the Magic’s last eight games.

The fourth-year player was unavailable in the first meeting between these two teams, but he’s been very good against Cleveland over the last two – averaging 19.5 points on 57 percent shooting, adding 5.5 assists in those losses.

Key: Crowder Sourcing

The loss of Kevin Love was a painful one for both he and the Cavaliers. Playing out of position for most of the season, Love still posted excellent numbers and earned his fifth All-Star nod before suffering a fracture in his left hand early last week in Detroit.

In his absence, Jae Crowder—who was relegated to the second unit not long before – returned to the starting five, and he’s been quietly very good over these past couple weeks.

Over the last eight games, dating back to January 18, the rugged forward has averaged 10.3 points, shooting 55 percent from the floor, 52 percent from beyond the arc and 85 percent from the stripe.

Crowder will tangle at times against former Cavalier Marreese Speights, but he’ll also focus on promising third-year pro, Jonathan Simmons, who’s breathed life into his career down in central Florida – averaging 13.7 ppg, more than doubling his scoring average from his first two seasons in San Antonio, while notching double-figures 36 times and topping the 20-point mark on nine occasions.

Simmons is averaging 17.5 points on 53 percent shooting in two contests against Cleveland this year.

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