Keys to the Game
Five Keys: Cavaliers at Pistons
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Key: Motor City Matchup
Winning solves a lot of problems, and after a pair of home wins over pair of Central Division rivals, the Cavaliers are starting to feel good about themselves again.
On Friday night, they jumped on the Pacers early and held on for the victory – avoiding the season sweep. On Sunday, they used a late push provided by an unusual lineup to take their second straight – dropping the Pistons by double-digits for the second time this year.
In Sunday’s victory, the Wine & Gold closed the contest on a 26-9 run, shot 51 percent from the floor on the night – outrunning the Pistons, 20-4, on the fastbreak and canning 15 triples in the victory.
The loss extended Detroit’s eight-game slide and dropped their mark since the start of December to 8-20, but they have some new hope in light of Monday’s mega-deal that brings Blake Griffin to the Motor City.
Dating back to last season, the Cavaliers have dominated StanVan’s squad – going 3-0 over the last three meetings, winning by an average of 25.7 points, outshooting them from the floor -- .541-.410 – averaging 28.0 assists and just 10.0 turnovers over that stretch.
After an extremely difficult start, the Wine & Gold can still go .500 in the month of January with a win over the new-look Pistons on Tuesday night in Motown and the following night against Miami at The Q.
Key: Night Moves
Blake Griffin is supposed to be with Detroit for their matchup with the Wine & Gold this evening; how much (or if) he will play will be determined later today and tonight.
The former No. 1 overall pick in 2009, Griffin played in 33 games this season for Los Angeles, averaging 22.6 points, 7.9 boards and 5.4 assists.
On Monday night, the Pistons acquired the five-time All-Star – sending guard Avery Bradley, forward Tobias Harris, center Boban Marjanovic, a future protected first-round and second-round draft choice in exchange for Griffin, center Willie Reed, seldom-used forward Brice Johnson.
The former Oklahoma standout is coming off a 27-point, 12-rebound performance against the Pelicans on Sunday and went for 23 and 12 in his first meeting with Cleveland earlier this year.
Whether it’s tonight or when these two teams meet for the final time this season on March 5, he’ll match up with a familiar foe in LeBron James. The four-time MVP comes into tonight’s tilt having registered his 27th double-double of the season on Sunday – leading both squads with 25 points on 8-for-15 shooting, adding a game-best 14 assists, eight boards and a steal.
Over his last three outings, the East’s lead All-Star vote-getter is averaging 26.3 points, 9.0 rebounds and 10.7 assists over that span.
Key: Frye Cooking
Even during the squad’s January stopover in Strugglesville, the Cavaliers’ second unit remained productive – and they’ve been very good through the Wine & Gold’s recent two-game run.
On Sunday night, Cleveland’s bench combined for 38 points in the win – with Jae Crowder and Kyle Korver notching a dozen points apiece. In his second straight game off the bench, Crowder was rock-solid – going 4-of-6 from the floor while Korver snapped out of personal funk, going 3-of-7 from long-range, his first game with multiple three-pointers since January 11.
Channing Frye got another nice run off the bench and, as usual, paid off with excellent production – notching seven points and seven boards, crushing home a put-back dunk that electrified Cleveland’s bench in the second stanza and improving his record to 18-4 when he sees more than 10 minutes of action.
Jeff Green had an atypically quiet night, failing to notch double-figure scoring for just the fourth time in his last 13 appearances.
And the Cavs should get even more good news on Tuesday night, with Dwyane Wade returning to the rotation after missing the previous two games due to personal reasons.
Key: Love and Mercy
Maybe now Kevin Love can relax.
Cleveland’s five-time All-Star – like most of the squad – had a rough one last week. But in Sunday evening’s win over Detroit, Love – like most of the squad – looked like himself again.
In that victory, Love notched 20 points on 8-for-14 shooting (his highest shot total since December 12) to go with a team-best 11 boards. Love went 4-of-6 from long-range, with his third bomb moving him past Wesley Person for 5th in Cavaliers franchise history. (With 552 triples as a member of the Cavs, Love now sets his sights on Boobie Gibson in the fourth spot .)
So far this season, After playing most of the campaign at center, Love is back to his normal position – but he’s thrived in both of late – posting five double-doubles in his last seven games, giving him a team-high tying 27 on the season – good for 6th in the NBA (along with LeBron James and DeAndre Jordan).
The former UCLA standout has also been very good against the Pistons – doubling-up in each of his last four meetings with the Detroit.
Key: Standing Guard
Nobody in Cleveland’s backcourt will complain about having to play the Pistons twice in three days and Avery Bradley not being part of either contest.
One of the league’s nastiest defenders (and toughest covers) was part of the major deal that brings Blake Griffin to Motown – reuniting the former Longhorn with Doc Rivers in Tinseltown.
The Pistons have been cobbling a backcourt together ever since Reggie Jackson went down with a ankle injury that simply sank Detroit’s fortunes midway through December, and they’ll do so again on Monday, likely starting Ish Smith at the point once again. The former D-Leaguer struggled on Sunday, finishing with just seven points in the loss. But he’s been good of late – tallying double-figures in each of the previous four.
The Cavaliers backcourt situation is starting to come into focus.
J.R. Smith’s starting spot is safe after a pair of strong outings – averaging 19.5 ppg over his past two, going a combined 11-for-20 from beyond the arc.
Isaiah Thomas is slowly but surely finding his rhythm and Derrick Rose had one of his best efforts of the season in Friday night’s win over Indy.
If the Cavs can lock down these two backcourt spots, with the way the frontcourt and bench have been performing, they can re-establish themselves as one of the league’s most lethal squads heading into the All-Star Break.