Keys to the Game
Five Keys: Cavaliers at Pistons
Chris Schwegler/NBAE/Getty Images
Key: Motown Records
The Pistons have opened their new gym in style, jumping out to a 10-5 start and grabbing an early lead in the Central Division. But after winning five straight and eight of nine, they’ve dropped their last two.
The Cavaliers, meanwhile, have snapped out of a funk and are lurking in the shallows for Stan Van Gundy’s squad in what should be a hotly-contested affair on Monday night.
The Wine & Gold are coming off their fourth straight win – wrapping up a successful 3-1 trip and pulling away from the Clippers in overtime on Friday night. Cleveland has taken three straight on the road and is 4-1 away from The Q this month.
Tonight marks their first-ever trip to Little Caesar’s Arena in downtown Detroit after so many memorable moments up at the Palace at Auburn Hills. The Pistons will be glad to get back home – having dropped back-to-back Central Division matchups to the Bucks and Pacers.
The Cavs and Pistons split their four-game set last year, with each team winning on their home floor. Detroit will want to prove their hot start is no fluke. Cleveland wants to assert its status as alpha dog.
Key: Next Man Up
When the Cavaliers finally get healthy at point guard, they’ll have the services of a former MVP and the Eastern Conference’s reigning scoring champ. But for right now – with Iman Shumpert shut down for the better part of a week with an aching right knee – the Cavaliers will turn to 13-year vet Jose Calderon, who’s struggled in his limited minutes so far this season.
Derrick Rose – who’s played in seven contests – and Isaiah Thomas are getting closer with each passing game, but right now, the Wine & Gold will start Calderon, with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade Monday’s contest squaring off against Detroit’s second- and third-leading scorers.
Reggie Jackson played through trade rumors and has scored in double-figures in every game but two this year while pacing the Pistons with 6.0 assists per. Avery Bradley is Detroit's second-leading scorer and has dogged the Wine & Gold in the past.
Cleveland’s starting backcourt combined for five points on Friday night; that might not get it done against Detroit’s dynamic duo.
Key: Long Relief
Even with an injury-ravaged point guard position, the Cavaliers have figured out a way to fill the gaps – and a big piece of that puzzle has been their improved bench, namely Dwyane Wade.
The 12-time All-Star tallied his second double-double of the season in Friday’s win over the Clippers – netting 17 of his 23 points in the second quarter, adding 11 boards, five assists, two blocks and a steal. With his first swat of the night, Wade passed Vince Carter (811) and moved into second place in NBA history in blocked shots by a guard, trailing only Michael Jordan (893).
Jeff Green followed up his 13-point performance against Charlotte with a solid 3-for-5 effort in Friday’s win at The Q and Kyle Korver canned another pair of triples.
Cleveland’s bench has been a strong suit all season long – and when the team’s at full strength, it’ll be a group that will include Derrick Rose and Tristan Thompson. The second unit has combined for at least 40 points in four of the last five games and at 39.5 ppg, is tied for 6th-best in the NBA.
Detroit’s main weapons off the bench are Ish Smith – who’s notched double-figures in 10 of Detroit’s 15 games and rookie Luke Kennard, who’s done so in three of the Piston’s last four.
Key: Compare and Contrast
By the traditional NBA definition, Kevin Love is not a traditional NBA center. Detroit’s Andre Drummond is. But in the modern NBA, set positions are a fluid thing and tonight’s matchup will show the contrast of the modern center spot.
Drummond has been one of the league’s prolific rebounders since entering the league and is second in the NBA again this season, having grabbed at least 12 boards in every game this year. Drummond – who’s notched 240 double-doubles for his career – is even doing well at the stripe this season, shooting .627 compared to his .389 career average, going 14-for-16 in a win over Milwaukee.
Drummond still has a ways to go to catch Kevin Love, who comes into the contest with 380 for his career. The four-time All-Star’s averaging a double-double this season – 18.3 ppg, 10.3 rpg – and has been especially good over his last six games, including Friday night’s 25-point, eight-rebound performance, canning a pair of huge bombs in overtime.
Love played in two of the four meetings between these two teams last year, doubling-up in each contest. The difference is that Tristan Thompson started at the 5 in each of them.
Key: Back to the Future
The remaining ghosts at the Palace at Auburn Hills are still probably muttering to themselves, glad that LeBron James won’t ever come back to torment them – on many occasions, most notoriously in Game 5 of the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals, when the King truly began his legacy, scoring Cleveland’s final 25 points in a double-overtime classic.
But it’s not just ancient history that LeBron’s tormented the Pistons; he’s tallied triple-doubles in each his last two games against Detroit and has six altogether.
LeBron’s coming off his second straight 30-point game, fourth in his last six outings – going off for 39 points, 14 boards and six assists in the overtime win. Counting the postseason, Monday night will mark his 73rd matchup against the Pistons and his first at Little Caesar’s Arena.
He’ll want to put on a show to christen the place right, but he’ll have to tangle with Detroit’s leading scorer, Tobias Harris.
This season, the improved former Volunteer’s had some big games, including a 34-point outburst against Minnesota, and his 45 triples are the most ever by a Piston through the first 15 games of the season.
And of course, Harris famously poked the bear while still a member of the Magic – to unfavorable results. It’s doubtful he’ll do the same again on Monday night.