Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Five Keys: Cavaliers at Mavericks

Glenn James/NBAE/Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor

Key: Texas Two-Step

The Cavaliers’ four-game trip rolls on as they face their second Texas squad in three days – traveling to Dallas for a Saturday night matchup with the cellar-dwelling Mavericks.

The Wine & Gold played Houston tough on Thursday night, but despite shooting 56 percent from the floor, the free throw and rebound disparity was too much to overcome. James Harden’s big effort negated stellar performances by LeBron James and Jeff Green.

As good as Cleveland was offensively, and even considering Tuesday night’s win over Milwaukee, the Cavs have still dropped six of their last eight and would love to reverse fortunes on the trip with a winnable game on Saturday.

The Mavericks come into the contest with the league’s worst mark at 2-10. Dallas dropped six straight before bouncing back to beat the Wizards in D.C. on Tuesday night. Cleveland’s gone 4-1 over their last five meetings with the Mavs, including a pair of 30-point wins over that stretch.

The Cavaliers should take care of a rebuilding Mavericks squad on Saturday night, but they’ve played to their competition all year. A victory would right the ship heading into the second half of the roadie.

Key: Hall of a Matchup

At some point on Saturday night, we’ll see two certain future Hall of Famers – LeBron James and Dirk Nowitzki – squaring off.

And while Dirk – taken 14 picks after Tyronn Lue in 1998 – is definitely in the twilight of his prolific career, LeBron is looking as dominant as ever.

Earlier this season – Nowitzki’s 20th – he played in his 1,400th career contest. Dirk has slowed down over his last three games, but notched double-figures in eight of Dallas’ first nine games. Among the last of a dying breed to play his entire career with the same team, the 13-time All-Star and 2007 MVP is the all-time franchise leader in games played, games started, minutes played, field goals made, 3-pointers made, free throws made, offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds and total rebounds.

LeBron is atop just as many Cavalier franchise marks, and he’s still got his sights set on some all-time NBA records.

He’s certainly on pace so far this season, netting at least 30 points in four of Cleveland’s five games in November – averaging 35.8 points on 62 percent shooting, an .879 mark from the stripe to go with 9.4 assists, 6.8 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 1.2 blocks so far this month.

Key: On Guards

Due to injuries and an influx of new faces, the Cavaliers starting backcourt has undergone several iterations so far this season.

On Saturday night, Cleveland goes with the same starting tandem that they did in Houston – with Iman Shumpert starting in place of Derrick Rose, still nursing that sore left ankle.

Since returning from a sore knee issue of his own, Shump has been very good despite playing out of position – finishing with seven points, five assists and a steal against Houston and hitting six of his nine shot attempts since returning to the rotation.

The man he was traded along with back in January 2015, J.R. Smith, has also had a mini-resurgence as of late. Swish posted two games of double-digit scoring before a recent two-game stretch that’s seen him average 16.5 points on 52 percent shooting, including a .533 mark from long-range, going 8-for-15 from deep.

On the defensive end, both players will get a look at Dallas’ impressive rookie, Dennis Smith Jr., who comes in averaging 18.5 ppg over his last four outings.

Key: Go for the Green

The Cavaliers bench has been strong all season long, and it offers a preview of how good the second unit can and should be once the team is fully healthy.

Jeff Green has been rock-solid all season, but he added some extra-sauce on Thursday night in Houston – finishing with 27 points, 20 of which he scored in the second quarter, going 11-for-15 from the floor to go with five boards, two assists and a team-high three steals. The 10-year vet from Georgetown comes into tonight’s contest averaging 11.0 ppg on the season, coming off the bench to tally double-figures in five of Cleveland’s first 12 games.

Dwyane Wade hasn’t been as flashy, but he’s run the second unit with veteran ease, and has been very good on the offensive end overall – averaging 14.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists over his last three outings.

Kyle Korver has slowed down over the past two games, but at .459, he’s still the top three-point shooter on the squad and in the Eastern Conference’s Top 20.

Key: Love Machine

In his fourth year with Cleveland, Kevin Love remains an enigma.

In three games this week, Love has posted a four-point effort against Atlanta, went off for 32 points and 16 boards against the Bucks and finished with 17 points and six rebounds before fouling out in Thursday’s loss to Houston.

But if there’s a squad for Love to get right against, it’s the Mavericks. In 21 career contests against the Mavericks, the four-time All-Star is averaging 21.0 points on 49 percent shooting, including 46 percent (42-for-91) from beyond the arc, to go with 11.6 boards. Against Dallas, Love has posted 17 double-doubles and a dozen 20-10 games.

Jumping Conferences hasn’t slowed him down, either. In all five meetings with the Mavs, Love has doubled-up – averaging 23.2 points and 12.6 boards per in a Cavaliers uniform.

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