Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Five Keys: Cavaliers vs. Pacers

Ron Hoskins/NBAE/Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor

Key: Keeping Pace

Nobody would have predicted before the 2017-18 campaign started that the Pacers – who the Cavaliers swept out of last year’s Playoffs and were supposed to be in rebuilding mode this year – would be on the verge of sweeping the season series against Cleveland before the All-Star Break. But if the Wine & Gold don’t get themselves right by Friday night, that’s a very distinct possibility.

Indiana – which sits just two games behind Cleveland in the Central Division – has already taken the first three games this year and come into tonight’s contest winners of seven of its last ten.

The Cavaliers have dropped 11 of their last 15 and have looked bad doing it – with five of their last six losses coming by double-digits.

The one loss in that stretch that wasn’t lopsided was a 97-95 loss to these Pacers to wrap up a five-game roadie back on January 12. But that loss wasn’t any less painful – with the Wine & Gold jumping out to an early 22-point lead before succumbing to the young Pacers.

The Cavaliers have needed a good signature win to snap the midseason funk for some time now; getting one against a Division foe that’s looking to prove a point would go a long way.

Key: Back in Business

After Tuesday’s defeat in San Antonio, coach Tyronn Lue vowed that there’d be a lineup change before the next contest – and he proved to be a man of his word: re-inserting Tristan Thompson into the starting lineup, sliding Kevin Love back over to the 4 and moving Jae Crowder to the bench.

Although Crowder has played well of late – notching double-figures in each of his last three games and four of his last six – the starting squad needed a boost, and an energy guy like Thompson might do the trick.

The seven-year vet has started 321 games in his Cavaliers career, including the first 77 of last season, but he’s had a strange year so far – staring the season with the first three games off the bench before moving back into the starting lineup for the next five. A calf injury suffered against these Pacers on November 1 then sidelined the blue-collar big for the next 19 contests before his return on December 12.

And although his numbers against Indiana this season have been rather pedestrian, he was very good against them last year – grabbing double-digit boards in seven of the eight games against the Pacers, regular season and Playoffs, doubling-up in two of those contests.

Myles Turner, who’s missed the previous eight games with an elbow injury, practiced on Thursday and could be available for Friday night’s showdown at The Q.

Key: Vast Improvement

As they say, hindsight is 20/20, and the Cavaliers are just one team that would love to do the 2013 Draft over again.

That was the year in which Cleveland took Anthony Bennett with the top overall pick, with Victor Oladipo going second to the Orlando Magic.

The former Indiana star was good in his first three seasons with the Magic and solid in his single season with OKC. But he’s turned the corner in his fifth year – lifting his numbers across the board, earning his first career All-Star appearance and grabbing the mid-season lead for the league’s Most Improved Player honors.

So far this season, Oladipo has notched 20 or more points in 29 of 43 games played, including seven games of 30-plus and a 47-point outburst in mid-December against the Nuggets. Oladipo dropped 33 points on Cleveland in the first meeting of the season and 23 more in the second contest.

The Cavaliers began to solve the sixth-year guard a little in their last meeting, however, holding him to a quiet 19 points on 8-for-21 shooting.

For the Wine & Gold, J.R. Smith survived Tyronn Lue’s lineup change, but he’ll have to find some kind of rhythm on the offensive end (or clamp down on guys like Oladipo) for that to remain the case – coming into tonight’s contest shooting 25 percent from the floor and 16 percent from long-range over his last seven games.

Key: Mr. 30,000

It might not have come the way he’d wanted it to, but LeBron James finally reached the historic landmark of 30,000 points – joining just six players in league history to do so – splashing home a 20-footer to end the first quarter on Tuesday night in San Antonio.

With that accomplishment in the rearview mirror, the King has bigger fish to fry – trying to snap his squad out of an oppressive midseason funk with the All-Star Break rapidly approaching.

James – with 473 made field goals is the league’s current leader – has been very good through the first three matchups with Indy this season, averaging 29.7 points on .536 shooting to go with 8.0 boards and 10.0 assists, registering double-doubles in all three.

For the most part, Numeral 23 will lock up with Bojan Bogdanovich, who’s having a solid first season in Indiana – tallying double-figures in 35 games already this season, including the first two meetings against Cleveland.

LeBron has faced off against the Pacers 53 times over the course of his 15-year career and hasn’t ever lost four straight against them. He’ll have to be his All-Star self on both sides of the floor to ensure that’s not the case on Friday.

Key: Feeling the Love

It’s been some strange days for the Wine & Gold dating back to Christmas, but this past week has been one of the weirdest – especially for Kevin Love.

On Saturday, he left the loss to Oklahoma City in the first quarter with an undisclosed illness that forced him to sit out of Sunday’s practice. After an interesting practice session on Monday, the Cavaliers traveled to San Antonio and Love was named to his fifth All-Star appearance before the contest. Love posted a quiet double-double in that defeat – 10 points, 11 boards – and in-between that loss and Friday night’s matchup with Indy, was moved back to the 4-spot, where he’d started in the previous three seasons before moving to center earlier this year.

His Tuesday night performance gave Love 25 double-doubles on the season, good for the team lead and ranking him 7th in the NBA.

The former UCLA standout has also performed well against the Pacers so far this year – doubling-up in two of the first three meetings, averaging 18.0 points and 10.3 boards.

He might be making the move away from center, but he’ll still have his hands full with the always-solid Thaddeus Young, who posted his highest-scoring game as a Pacer earlier this season when he went off for 26 points – 12 in the fourth quarter – in Indiana’s 17-point win over Cleveland back on November 1 at The Q.

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