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Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Five Keys: Cavaliers at Pelicans

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

Key: Bourbon Street Battle

The Cavaliers don’t have to look hard for a scouting report on tonight’s Western Division opponent as they tip off the longest trip of the season – they got an up-close and personal look at the Pelicans this past Saturday night. And they hope things go differently in tonight’s rematch in the Big Easy.

In between the two meetings, the Cavaliers fell in a closely-contested matchup with the Pacers on Tuesday night at The Q – slicing a 26-point second-half deficit to just five in the final minutes before falling for the 10th straight occasion and failing to make hay during a four-game homestand.

The Wine & Gold now hit the road for an 11-day, six-game junket, beginning with tonight’s showdown at the Smoothie King Center.

The Pelicans followed up their Saturday night win with a victory over Memphis – their first back-to-back triumphs since mid-November.

In the previous head-to-head matchup over the weekend in Cleveland, New Orleans led by just nine at intermission, but outscored the Wine & Gold, 37-20, in the third period and cruised to the finish line in the fourth.

The Cavs would love to use some of the momentum from last night’s performance to get the trip started in style.

Key: Hi Brow

Of course, any outlook on a matchup with New Orleans means planning for perennial MVP candidate Anthony Davis.

At the halfway mark of the season, the seventh-year superstar from Kentucky ranks second in the league in blocks per game, third in points, fourth in rebounds and seventh in steals. No player is more efficient than Davis, who’s shooting 51 percent on the season and has piled up 28 double-doubles so far.

This year, the Brow has gone for 40-plus on six occasions and 30-plus on nine more – including a 35-point, 13-rebound effort in New Orleans’ win against Memphis.

Davis has topped the 30-point mark three times in his career against the Cavaliers, but he was relatively quiet in Saturday night’s victory – finishing with an even 20 points and 10 boards on 6-for-12 shooting, adding four steals and a pair of blocks.

On Saturday, the Wine & Gold primarily went with Larry Nance Jr. against Davis, but after suffering a right knee injury in the first half of Tuesday’s loss at The Q, it’s unlikely that he’ll be ready to rumble with one of the league’s elite big men.

If Nance is unable to go, Coach Drew might have to go with a frontline of Tristan Thompson and the recently-returned Ante Zizic to slow down the Pelicans’ dominant front line.

Key: Hard-to-Handle Randle

No opponent likes seeing Anthony Davis in the starting lineup, but it might be New Orleans’ other big man who’s given the Wine & Gold more trouble of late.

Julius Randle is having an outstanding first season with the Pelicans, averaging 23.4 points and 9.3 boards since being inserted into the starting lineup in early November. The fifth-year forward from Kentucky is shooting 54 percent from the floor on the season and joins his frontcourt mate among the NBA’s top 20 in rebounding.

And as good as Randle’s been against everyone else, he’s been brutal on the Cavaliers over his last two meetings.

In last Saturday’s win at The Q, he led the Pelicans with 22 points to go with game-highs in boards (12) and assists (eight). Against Cleveland last season, as a member of the Lakers, Randle went off for 34 points, 14 boards, seven assists and a pair of blocks.

Tristan Thompson – who notched his second-straight double-double, 17th on the season in Tuesday’s loss to Indy – will likely draw this assignment on Wednesday night. In Saturday’s loss to New Orleans at The Q, Thompson finished with 10 points and a team-high 11 boards.

Key: No Bull

There are only three rookies – DeAndre Ayton, Luka Doncic and Trae Young – who’ve been filling it up at a higher clip than Collin Sexton – who’s now notched double-figure scoring 34 games this year.

The only Cavalier to suit up for all 41 games this year, Sexton leads all freshmen at the stripe (.870) and is fourth in assists per game (2.8).

The Young Bull is coming off a solid 14-point, four-assist effort against the Pacers and had a nice 15-point showing against the Pelicans on Saturday night. The Pelicans have one of the more unique lineups in the league, starting their two towers and three guards.

On Saturday night, Sexton spent much of his time dueling with Elfrid Payton, who recently returned from a 22-game layoff with a broken finger. The Pelicans got the better of Cleveland on that night, but Sexton outplayed Payton on the night.

If Cleveland’s first rounder gets out of control on Wednesday night, the Pelicans have the luxury of pinning one of the league’s best two-way guards – Jrue Holiday – on him.

Holiday – the only player in the NBA averaging at least 20.5 points and 8.0 assists – joined Julius Randle to lead New Orleans with 22 points in Saturday night’s victory at The Q.

Key: Payne-Free

Yes, this is the KeyBank Key in which we discuss the Wine & Gold’s best offensive performer all season long – Jordan Clarkson – and his fellow reserves.

Clarkson was outstanding on Tuesday night and his late surge nearly helped Cleveland pull off the improbable comeback – scoring 10 of his team-high 26 points in the third quarter, going 11-for-20 from the floor on the night, adding two boards and three steals in the loss.

Tuesday’s effort was Clarkson’s second straight 20-point game, the third time this season he’s done so back-to-back. The fifth-year vet has now tallied double-figures in 36 of his 40 appearances this season – and he’s been even better of late, averaging 19.6 points per since December 12.

Matthew Dellavedova returned to the lineup on Tuesday and, despite finishing with a team-high-tying five assists, struggled from the floor.

One reserve who didn’t struggle from the floor was the newest Cavalier – Cameron Payne – who finished with 10 points, going 4-of-8 from the field, including 2-of-4 from long-range in 22 productive minutes off Larry Drew’s bench.

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