Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Five Keys: Cavaliers vs. Nets

David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor

Key: Cut Down the Nets

Fans would love to think of tonight as a way for the Cavaliers to sink Brooklyn in the standings and improve their Lottery hopes. For the Cavaliers themselves, they just need a home win after dropping the previous two at The Q.

The Wine & Gold fell to 1-2 since the Break after winning four straight heading into All-Star Weekend. On Sunday afternoon, the Cavaliers were relatively sharp on both ends before a 11-0 Spurs’ run to start the fourth quarter knocked them off kilter and sent them to the season sweep at the hands of San Antonio.

The five-game homestand rolls on, however, and the sledding gets a little easier on Tuesday night when the Brooklyn Nets come to town.

The Nets – whose Draft pick the Cavaliers own this June – had dropped 12 of their previous 13 before knocking off the Bulls on Monday night.

The Cavs are 11-3 in their last 14 meetings with Brooklyn, winners of nine straight at The Q, including a 10-point victory in late November at The Q. But the Nets have also stung the Wine & Gold once this season and come to The Q with a bit of confidence after blasting the Bulls by 17 the previous evening.

Key: Man of the Month

With one game to go, LeBron James can try to cement his seventh straight nod as the East’s February Kia Player of the Month.

He certainly didn’t hurt his chances on Sunday afternoon, flirting with his 12th triple-double of the season and finishing with 33 points on 14-for-25 shooting, including 2-of-5 from the downtown to go with a team-high-tying 13 boards, a game-high nine assists and a steal. (James also went to the stripe a grand total of four times on those 25 shot attempts; with the Cavaliers attempting just 14 free throws compared to 32 for San Antonio.)

With one game remaining in February, James comes into tonight’s contest averaging a triple-double through the first nine games of the month – 26.6 ppg, 10.4 aptg, 10.3 rpg – shooting 55 percent from the floor and 41 percent from the stripe over that span.

The four-time MVP posted one of his 11 triple-doubles this season in his last meeting with the Nets – going off for 29 points, 10 boards, 13 assists and four blocks in the win. And LeBron has been excellent over his last four games against Brooklyn – shooting a combined 67 percent from the floor (50-of-75) while averaging 32.3 points, 7.5 boards and 8.8 assists over that span.

If he comes close to those averages tonight, he’ll likely be East’s top player of the month for the 37th time in his career and third this season.

Key: Crabbe-Fest

Back on Draft night in 2013, Allen Crabbe was a briefly a Cleveland Cavalier as the top pick of the second round – right before the Wine & Gold shipped him to Portland in exchange for second rounders in 2015 and 2016. (Who later turned out to be Sir’Dominic Pointer and Paul Zipser.)

After three decent seasons in the Pacific Northwest, Crabbe seems to have found a home with the Nets – having his best scoring season as a pro and leading the squad in scoring in each of their last six outings – including a 21-point effort in Brooklyn’s one-sided win over Chicago on Monday night.

Crabbe likely doesn’t harbor any ill-will against the Cavaliers, but he has done well against them – netting double-figure scoring in five of the last six matchups, including a 19-point effort in the Nets early-season win over Cleveland and a 24-point outing in Portland’s home win over the Cavaliers last January.

Crabbe will lock horns (claws?) with JR Smith on Tuesday night. Swish went into the Break on a heater but has cooled off considerably since – averaging 3.5 points over his last two outings, going 2-for-13 from the floor, including 1-of-10 from long-range over that span.

The Cavaliers and Smith could both use a get-well game against the 20-win Nets on Tuesday evening.

Key: Making a Point

In their first season following Kyrie Irving’s departure, the Cavaliers have tried several options at the point – from Jose Calderon to Derrick Rose to Isaiah Thomas. Even LeBron James got a couple starts at the point this year.

Through his first five games with the Wine & Gold, George Hill has been up and down. He was very good in his debut – notching a dozen points in just 21 minutes of work in a big win over Boston – and was even better last Friday night in Memphis – sharing the team-lead with 18 points, going 5-of-11 from the floor and 7-for-8 from the stripe.

But he’s struggled in Cleveland’s first two home games following the Break – combining for just eight points on 3-for-17 shooting.

He won’t have an easy night at the office on Tuesday, going against an improved Spencer Dinwiddie, who’s on pace to top single-season career-highs in points, rebounds, assists and minutes and has already started more than twice as many games this campaign (50) than he did in his first three combined seasons (19).

The fourth-year guard from Colorado – who’s almost doubled his point production from a year ago, was quiet in Cleveland’s win at The Q in late November, but led Brooklyn with 22 points in their early-season upset of Cleveland at the Barclays Center.

Key: Bench Trial

Although Tristan Thompson finished with a game-high-tying 13 boards on Sunday, LeBron James was forced to do most of the heavy lifting among the starters – netting 33 points, 19 more than Cleveland’s other four starters combined.

Once again, however, the Cavaliers second unit provided some much-needed relief – combining for 47 points, the 36th time this season they’ve topped the 40-point mark, including six of the last seven contests. They continue to be one of the best bench units in the Association – ranking 4th-best with a 41.9 ppg average.

Jordan Clarkson, who’s second among all NBA reserves at 14.3 ppg, notched 13 of his 17 points in the second half of Sunday’s loss (two nights after netting 12 of his 16 after intermission in Memphis). Clarkson has now netted at least 14 points in four of his first five games with the Cavaliers.

Jeff Green followed up with 14 points, going 6-of-9 from the floor -- the sixth time in his last eight outings that he’s tallied double-figure scoring, averaging 11.8 points on 52 percent shooting, going 22-of-24 from the stripe over that stretch.

Rodney Hood didn’t do much in Sunday’s loss, but that could change on Tuesday night, with Tyronn Lue stating on Monday that he’d like the lefty guard to let it fly more freely.

And Larry Nance Jr. had a quiet afternoon in his first game sporting uniform No. 22 – finishing with four points, four boards, two steals and a pair of blocks.

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