Keys to the Game
Five Keys: Cavaliers at Pacers
David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty Images
Key: Chasing History
On Friday night, the Cavaliers travel to Indiana looking win their 14th consecutive contest and make franchise history, but it won’t be easy in a gym that’s been unfriendly to them over the years. But if they can bring a win home from Indy, they’ll also set a team record with eight straight road victories.
Cleveland put itself in this position by pulling away from a pesky Kings squad on Wednesday night at The Q – with Kyle Korver sparking the late rally and LeBron James capping it in the closing moments from beyond the arc.
The surprising Pacers are one of four Central Division squad teams above the .500 mark and come into tonight’s game having won seven of their last 10, including their last two straight – crushing the Knicks on Monday night over overcoming a two touchdown fourth-quarter deficit on Wednesday night against the Bulls.
Aside from an embarrassing 17-point loss at The Q back on November 1, the Cavaliers have had the Pacers’ number of late – winning seven of their last 10 meetings with Indy, splitting the last two at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, an arena that plagued Cleveland in 10 straight visits from 2010 to 2015.
Both teams are completely different these days, and the Cavaliers come to town interested in a different type of history.
Key: Reborn in Indy
Sometimes a change of scenery is all it takes. That’s definitely done the trick for 5th-year pro, Victor Oladipo, who’s had a career rebirth this season in Indiana.
Selected with the 2nd overall pick in the underwhelming 2013 Draft, Oladipo had been solid with Orlando and Oklahoma City, but he’s setting career marks with the Pacers – upping his scoring average over five points higher than his previous best and showing marked improvement in shooting and three-point percentages, rebounds and assists. After not topping the 29-point plateau in any game last season, the former Indiana star has already topped 30 points three times this season, including a 36-point performance one week ago in Chicago.
He’s also topped the 20-point mark on 17 occasions, including a 23-point effort in Indiana’s victory over Cleveland at The Q on November 1.
J.R. Smith, who’s been quiet on the offensive end over the past couple games – averaging 4.5 points on 3-for-9 shooting from deep after netting double-figures in four of the previous five – will draw that starting defensive assignment on Friday night.
Key: Double Trouble
The Pacers underwent a pretty substantial facelift from the squad that faced the Wine & Gold in the First Round of last year’s postseason, but one player that wasn’t going anywhere is their prized young big, Myles Turner.
After missing seven games earlier this season – including the earlier meeting against Cleveland – with a concussion, Turner has been very good in the middle for Indiana.
He’s recorded a blocked shot in every appearance this season and currently leads the league with 44 – while averaging 13.8 points and 7.3 boards in 18 contests.
The third-year pro from Texas will have his work cut out for him on Friday night, though – taking on a red-hot Kevin Love, who’s doubled-up in four of his last five outings, averaging 25.0 points on 53 percent shooting, including 46 percent from deep and 89 percent from the stripe, pulling down 12.4 boards per over that span.
Cleveland’s four-time All-Star – who leads the team and is 4th in the league with 17 double-doubles – notched one of those 17 against the Pacers in that early-November loss, finishing with 13 points and 13 boards, but shooting just 4-of-12 from the floor. But Love – who started that night at the 4 – was a different player just five weeks ago, and the Cavaliers were a different team.
Key: Continued Reign
In his tenures with both Cleveland and Miami, LeBron James has done his share of tormenting Indiana over the years.
On Friday night, James will face the Pacers for the 75th time in his career, regular season and Playoffs, and if he keeps up on his current pace, he’ll be looking for his 30th career 30-point night against them – registering No. 29 in Cleveland’s early-season loss when he went for 33 points and 11 boards.
The four-time MVP (who’s making a strong case for his fifth) registered his 16th double-double of the season in Wednesday’s win over the Kings – posting a game-high 32 points, going 12-of-18 from the floor, including 5-of-8 from long-distance, adding 11 boards, a game-high nine dimes, three steals and a pair of blocks.
It was the 12th straight game – and 23rd time in 25 games – that James has shot better than 50 percent. At .587 this season, LeBron is current 7th in the NBA in field goal percentage, and the only player in the top 12 who isn’t a pure big man.
The 13-time All-Star is also shooting .430 from beyond the arc – 24 percentage points than his previous career best.
Key: Reserve Judgement
The Wine & Gold’s formula for success throughout the course of their 13-game winning streak has been simple and almost exactly the same every night: LeBron James and Kevin Love post double-doubles, one other starter contributes some modest scoring, and the bench does the rest of the work.
That was the case again on Wednesday night, with Kyle Korver and Jeff Green combining for 32 points in Cleveland’s win over the Kings.
The Cavs bench combined for 21 of the team’s 28 points in the fourth quarter – led by Korver’s three straight triples to start the period and give Tyronn Lue’s squad its first lead of the second half.
Korver finished with 15 points in the win, and his 31 fourth-quarter triples this season is the best mark in the NBA. Jeff Green finished with 17 points – his 11th double-digit scoring performance this season – to go with eight boards as Cleveland’s bench combined for 41 points, the fourth straight game and 17th time this year that they’ve topped the 40-point plateau. (And that was with Dwyane Wade having his string of double-figure scoring games snapped at seven.)
This season, the Cavs bench is averaging 40.9 points per contest, good for 5th-best in the NBA.
The Pacers will counter with Corey Joseph, impressive sophomore big man, Domantas Sabonis who, like Victor Oladipo, has been reborn in Indy – more than doubling his rookie production – and LeBron’s old friend, the mercurial Lance Stephenson.