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Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Five Keys: Cavaliers vs. Raptors

Jordan Clarkson
Ron Turenne/NBAE/Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele Beat Writer

Key: Home Sweet Home

After wrapping up their two-game trip with a 33-point loss on Friday night in Boston, the Cavaliers close out the weekend back-to-back with another heavyweight matchup, welcoming Kawhi Leonard and the East-leading Raptors to The Q on Saturday.

Toronto comes to town sporting the league’s best mark at 19-4, riding a seven-game win streak and fresh off a huge overtime win over the World Champs on Thursday night north of the border.

To say the young Cavaliers have their work cut out for them on Saturday night is an understatement. But they’ve been here before, exactly seven days ago, and have risen to the occasion.

On Friday night, the Wine & Gold were competitive through the first 24 minutes of the contest before Boston blew things open with a 15-5 run right before intermission, running off with the one-sided affair in the second stanza.

Toronto has been dominant this season under first-year coach Nick Nurse and, other than a three-game skein in mid-November, have been nearly perfect – including a victory in the season opener against the Cavaliers in Canada.

If the Wine & Gold hope to avenge that loss, they’ll need to be better than they’ve been since rattling off two straight last weekend.

Key: Mr. Leonard

If anyone was wondering before the season if the Kawhi Leonard Experience would work out north of the border, the silent superstar has answered that question resoundingly through his play and leadership through the first quarter of the season.

The Claw has been as good as advertised, helping the Raptors blitz through the Eastern Conference – averaging an even 25.0 points per game, putting up career-high rebounding numbers and performing brilliantly on the defensive end.

Leonard comes to town fresh off a 37-point performance in Thursday’s overtime thriller against the Dubs and has already doubled-up once against the Cavaliers this year, netting 24 points and 12 boards in the season opener.

The Cavaliers will throw whatever they can at Leonard – including Rodney Hood, Cedi Osman and, if he’s able to go, David Nwaba.

The young Cedi will open up against Leonard in the lineup, and he’ll need to rediscover his form from last week if Cleveland means to knock off Toronto.

Since netting back-to-back 20-point games last week, Cedi has notched double-figures just once over the next four games. Osman’s numbers are all up in his sophomore year – he just needs to string some games together.

Key: Crash Course

You don’t get a nickname like “the Young Bull” by backing down from challenges, and Collin Sexton has faced one after another during this gauntlet of point guards – including Russell Westbrook and Kyrie Irving on this recent road trip.

Sexton got a bit of a break last Saturday night when Chris Paul was a late scratch, but he probably won’t dodge another bullet against four-time All-Star Kyle Lowry tonight.

But the kid is always up for a battle, and he’ll be going against one of the game’s best, despite this year’s slight dip in production.

Despite the drop in numbers, Lowry has his team winning – doubling-up in three games during Toronto’s recent seven-game run, with a 21-point, 17-assist, 12-rebound effort in a win over Atlanta.

Sexton has tallied double-figures in each of his 11 starts, topping the 20-point plateau in five of those games, including three of his previous six.

Kyrie was a handful for the rookie on Friday night; Sexton finished with 15 points, four boards and four assists, but went just 6-of-18 from the floor.

He’ll have his hands full again on Saturday night as his freshman initiation continues at The Q.

Key: Welcome Aboard

It didn’t look the same as the way as it does when Kyle Korver puts up 15 points, six boards and four assists, but Alec Burks – who arrived in a Thursday deal that sent Korver to Utah – was similarly productive in his 26-minute debut on Friday night in Boston.

The eighth-year veteran from Colorado seemed to fit in seamlessly despite just shooting around with his new squad earlier that morning.

Burks’ effort was part of a collective 43-point showing by Cleveland’s bench in the loss.

Jordan Clarkson, as usual, led both the bench and the squad overall with 16 points, going 5-of-14 from the floor, including 3-of-5 from long-range and 3-of-4 from the stripe.

Over his last nine games, the fifth-year pro from Mizzou is averaging an even 17.0 points per, shooting 44 percent from the floor, with four 20-point performances in the mix over that stretch.

Even with the offseason deal that sent Jakob Poeltl to San Antonio, the Raptors bench has been outstanding again.

Fred VanVleet is one of the better young Sixth Men in the league, Jonas Valanciunas has started over 400 games with Toronto and former Cavalier C.J. Miles is one of the league’s most deadly marksmen off the bench.

Key: Hello, Larry

Larry Nance Jr. has been solid in three games since moving back into the starting lineup – but the Wine & Gold are going to need the young forward to up his production just a bit if they’re going to start getting over the hump against some of the league’s heavyweights.

He netted 12 points and led Cleveland with eight assists in Monday’s loss to Minnesota and grabbed double-digit boards in his next outing against OKC and is shooting a solid 56 percent over the three-game stretch, but he’s attempted just eight combined shots over the past two games.

The Wine & Gold are better when Nance is being aggressive, and they’ll need every bit of that against Toronto’s vastly-improved Pascal Siakam on Saturday night.

The 27th overall pick of the 2016 Draft, Siakam has gotten better in each of his three years in the league – and this year he’s grabbed the starting role by the reins and hasn’t let go, bouncing back from a slow start to averaging 14.8 ppg on the season.

And he’s been even better of late, topping the 20-point mark in three of his previous five outings – including a 26-point performance on 8-of-10 shooting from the floor against the Champs on Thursday night.


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