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Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Five Keys: Cavaliers vs. Mavericks

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

Key: Looking for Three Straight

On Saturday night, after a well-earned three-day break, the Wine & Gold try to put together a three-game win streak for the first time this season when they welcome Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks to The Q.

The Cavaliers have won six of their last seven over Dallas, but things have obviously changed for the Wine & Gold since then. Things are also about to change for the Mavericks, who made the first major move heading into the Trade Deadline – dealing Wesley Matthews, Dennis Smith Jr. and DeAndre Jordan and a pair of first rounders to New York in exchange for Kristaps Porzingis, Courtney Lee and Tim Hardaway Jr.

Obviously, Porzingis is still on the mend from a torn MCL and may or may not play in 2018-19, and the Knicks are looking beyond this season and into the summer, so it’s not a move that will come to fruition any time soon.

The Cavaliers won their second straight on Tuesday night, building a 25-point lead early in the fourth quarter only to spend the rest of the period fighting off a late Wizards rally. Cleveland still hung on for the win and has now taken two of three against Washington this year.

With a nice break in the schedule, the Wine & Gold would love to get February off to a strong start after a difficult month of January.

Key: A New Sensation

The Mavericks haven’t had a star attraction since Dirk Nowitzki was a youngster. Now, in his 21st NBA season, Dirk is the squad’s elder statesman and Dallas has a new international must-see player, rookie Luka Doncic.

The Slovenian sensation, whose reputation overseas preceded him into the league, has been better than advertised – already piling up six 30-point games, 27 of more than 20, to go with nine double doubles and a pair of trifectas, including a 35-point, 12-rebound, 10-assist outburst in a loss last week in Toronto.

With that effort in Toronto, Doncic became the first teenager in NBA history to record a 30-point triple-double.

Doncic – who’ll be Cedi Osman’s teammate in the Rising Stars Challenge at All-Star Weekend – has tallied double-figures in 45 games this year, one better than the rookie in second place: Collin Sexton.

The two youngsters won’t match up head-to-head all night – that job will primarily fall to Alec Burks and, if healthy, possibly David Nwaba – but it will be a chance for fans to see two of the league’s best frosh on the floor together.

Sexton has been piling up double figure games, but he’s still struggling to shoot the ball doing so – failing to shoot better than 41 percent in any of his past seven outings.

Key: Super Soph

In terms of international youngsters on the rise, not many guys are doing it better than Cedi Osman over the last week-and-a-half.

Including his 26-point effort in the win over Washington – going 10-of-16 from the floor, including 4-of-8 from beyond the arc – the sophomore from Macedonia is averaging 24.3 points on 55 percent shooting from the floor and 48 percent from long-range over his last four games.

The young Cedi has topped the 20-point plateau three times in this last week after doing so just six times in his previous 107 outings. After grabbing zero rebounds in 32 minutes in a loss to Chicago on MLK Day, Osman has also averaged 6.3 boards per over his last four.

With Dallas in flux following the blockbuster deal, it’s not sure how they’ll match up on Saturday night. But Cedi will probably get a good look at veteran Harrison Barnes.

In his third year with the Mavericks, Barnes his having another solid season – averaging 17.7 ppg, posting 16 20-point games and a pair of 30-point outings so far.

Barnes has seven games already this season in which he’s drilled at least five triples.

Key: Center of Attention

The Cavaliers are slowly but surely getting healthier along their front line. Kevin Love has been doing on-court work at Cleveland Clinic Courts, Tristan Thompson is getting closer to his return from a foot injury and Larry Nance Jr. made his return last Friday night against the Heat.

It took Nance a couple games to rediscover his rhythm, and he looked like his old self again in Tuesday’s win at The Q – finishing with 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting to go with 11 boards for his seventh double double of the season in 24 minutes of work off the bench.

The Wine & Gold also got a double double from their starting center, Ante Zizic, who finished with 12 points and a game-high 12 boards.

Dating back to the start of the West Coast trip on January 9, Big Z is averaging 13.2 points and 8.4 boards per, shooting 58 percent from the floor and .794 from the stripe.

On Thursday morning, it looked like Zizic would face off against DeAndre Jordan on Saturday night. By Thursday afternoon, the blockbuster trade left Salah Mejri as their man in the middle.

Chances are good that fifth-year man Dwight Powell eventually moves up into the starting spot.

Key: Bench Trial

After getting bested in back-to-back games against Boston and Miami, the Cavaliers bench were back in business in victories over Chicago and Washington.

In Tuesday’s win over the Wizards – if not for Jordan McRae’s fourth quarter flurry – Cleveland’s bench was dominant, going for 51 points, the 18th time this season the second unit topped the 50-point mark. Cleveland’s reserves, who’ve combined for 40-plus points 33 times and 60-plus four times come into Saturday’s contest with the sixth-highest mark in the NBA at 43.3 ppg.

On Tuesday night, as he has on 22 occasions already this year, Jordan Clarkson led the Wine & Gold in scoring – finishing with 28 points in 29 minutes of work, going 10-of-15 from the floor, including 6-of-8 from long-range, adding five boards and a pair of assists.

Matthew Dellavedova had his second straight double-figure game in Tuesday’s win, finishing with 10 points after going for 16 in last Sunday’s victory in Chicago.

Dallas will be relying on many of its bench players to step up on Saturday night as they wait for the smoke to clear from Thursday’s roster-altering deal.

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