Keys to the Game
Five Keys: Cavaliers at Raptors
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Key: Take Off to the Great White North
If the Wine & Gold thought a Monday night in Minnesota was a rough way to wind down an extended road stretch, wait until they have to face off against 20,000 agitated Canadians and a Raptors squad coming off just their second home loss of the season – not to mention back-to-back Playoff defeats at the hands of Thursday's guests from across the Great Lakes.
The Cavaliers haven’t been playing well on the road since traveling West for Christmas, but Monday night’s 28-point drubbing in the Twin Cities was especially disappointing as Andrew Wiggins helped Minnesota snap a six-game losing streak to the squad that traded him in 2014.
The Raptors are smarting over a loss as well, albeit not as one-sided as the one Cleveland absorbed on Monday – falling to the Heat with former Cavalier Wayne Ellington hitting the game-winner to snap Toronto’s 12-game win streak at the Air Canada Centre.
Tyronn Lue’s squad took three of four regular season contests against the Raptors and swept them out of the Second Round by an average of just over 15 points per.
Toronto knows it’ll have to make its true mark against the Cavs in the Playoffs, but they’d love to leave an early calling card against a team that’s ready to get home.
Key: Five On the Floor
To say that the Cavaliers starters played poorly in Monday night’s loss would be an understatement.
The bad news is that LeBron James led the unit with 10 points, barely extending his streak of double-digit scoring games to 831, and the other four guys combined to go 6-of-30 from the floor – with Kevin Love going 1-for-7 against his old team, JR Smith taking the collar in seven attempts and Isaiah Thomas going 3-for-11 before getting tossed in the second half. Needless to say, that will not cut it against the league’s best home team – one that leads the Eastern Conference in scoring, averaging 115.5 ppg in 17 home contests.
The good news on Monday was that those starters averaged just over 22 minutes of work and should be fresh as they wrap up the five-game roadie with a rough back-to-back.
There’s also the fact that the Cavaliers dominated Toronto across the board in last year’s Eastern Conference Semifinal matchup – outrebounding Toronto by 7.5 boards, averaging 23.3 assists to just under 14 turnovers, shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor and 47 percent from deep.
Naturally, the King led the charge – averaging 36.0 points on 57 percent shooting, including 48 percent from long-range, to go with 8.3 boards and 5.3 assists – becoming the first player in NBA history to tally 35 points or more in every game of a four-game sweep.
Key: DeMar DeRollin'
JR Smith simply hasn’t gotten into a steady groove since a thumb injury derailed his season last December. He comes into tonight’s contest averaging 7.7 ppg, his lowest mark since his sophomore season – not to mention his most difficult shooting night of the season on Monday night in Minnesota.
Swish had notched double-figures in three of his previous four games, including a 4-for-5 mark from long-range over a two-game stretch, before missing all seven attempts against the T-Wolves.
The 14-year vet – who’s closing in on both Dirk Nowitzki and the NBA’s top 10 list for three-pointers made – will need to be focused in on the offensive end in Thursday’s nationally-televised affair. But it’ll be his defense that determines whether the Wine & Gold can snap out of their mid-season funk.
DeMar DeRozan is coming off his third Eastern Conference Player of the Week award after averaging 35.7 points per in three games last week. He cooled off slightly, finishing with ‘only’ 25 points in Toronto’s loss to Miami, but in just the last month he’s dropped 52 on the Bucks and 45 on the Sixers.
He went off for 37 points in Game 3 of last year’s Semis, and the Cavaliers know if they want to stop their streak of giving up 127 points at two, it starts with stopping DeRozan on Thursday.
Key: Little Big Man
In fairness to both Cleveland’s starting point guard and the team overall, it was widely accepted in the months leading up to Isaiah Thomas’ return that it would take a couple of weeks for the Wine & Gold to figure things out. It’s been just over a week since the East’s reigning scoring leader has been in the rotation, and it’s fair to say that said prediction is spot-on: the Cavaliers have not figured it out yet.
Thomas was rock-solid in his first two appearances with his new squad – coming off the bench to notch 17 points in his debut and netting 19 in Saturday night’s victory in Orlando.
But the emotions that he’d been storing up through three months of rehab bubbled to the surface in Monday’s clunker in Minnesota. Thomas finished with as many field goals (3) as assists and turnovers before picking up a Flagrant-2 against Andrew Wiggins midway through the third quarter.
Thomas will be busy on both ends against Toronto if Kyle Lowry is able to go on Thursday night. The Raptors’ three-time All-Star had to leave their recent overtime win over Brooklyn with a bruised tailbone – not before netting 18 points and 11 assists – and didn’t play in the recent loss to Miami.
Odds are he’ll give it a go against the team that’s ended each of his last two seasons.
Key: Love Lessons
Kevin Love has been performing at an All-Star level all season long, grabbing the reigns of a position change and posting his best numbers since arriving in Cleveland. But he’s not immune to the wear-and-tear of a prolonged road stretch and a mid-season shooting funk.
Bookending his brilliant performance on Saturday night – drilling six triples to finish with 27 points – are a pair of forgettable efforts, a 1-for-11 mark in last week’s loss to Boston and a 1-for-7 night in his return to the Target Center, where he spent his first six NBA seasons.
Love – who needs just three triples to pass Danny Ferry for 6th on the Wine & Gold’s all-time list – doubled-up in all three regular season appearances against Toronto last season, and the Wine & Gold will need something resembling that to get right on Thursday night north of the border.
Cleveland's four-time All-Star will have his hands full with seven-year vet, Jonas Valanciunas, who’s coming off a rough night in Tuesday’s loss to the Heat but averaged 20.5 points on 71 percent shooting to go with 13.0 boards in victories over Milwaukee and Brooklyn.