Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Five Keys: Cavaliers at Sixers

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor

Key: Philadelphia Freedom

For the first time this season, the Wine & Gold travel to Philadelphia to take on the up-and-coming Sixers – looking to run their current win streak to eight games and their win streak against Philly to 10 straight.

On Friday night, the Cavaliers made it eight consecutive and 12 of their last 13 against the Hornets – outscoring Charlotte 7-1 down the stretch, holding Steve Clifford’s squad without a single field goal in the final 3:34.

The Cavaliers – who haven’t lost since November 9 in Houston – have also gone 5-1 on the road this month, notching wins over Wizards, Mavericks, Knicks, Hornets and Pistons.

As hot as the Wine & Gold have been, they’ll be taking on a squad that’s been playing almost as well – with the Sixers winning five of their last six heading into tonight’s showdown – including three straight by an average of exactly 20.0 points per. In the Sixers’ most recent win, Joel Embiid and T.J. McConnell doubled-up while J.J. Redick went nuts from long-range.

For the second straight Monday, the Wine & Gold hit the road against a young team from the East looking to make their mark against the three-time Conference champs.

Key: Trust the Process

Joel Embiid has been the personification of the “Process” in Philadelphia and, since being tabbed with the third overall pick of the 2014 Draft, has gone from intriguing-but-injury-prone prospect to Rookie of the Year candidate to certain All-Star in a very short time.

Heading into tonight’s contest, the expressive young star from Cameroon is one of only five current players averaging at least 20 points and 10 boards (22.7 ppg, 11.0 rpg) and coming off his sixth double-double of the season – an 18-point, 14-rebound, six-assist effort against Orlando. Embiid has posted some monster nights so far this year, none bigger than his 46-point, 15-rebound, seven-assist, seven-block night against the Lakers two weeks ago.

In two career contests against the Cavs, Embiid’s notched 22 points in each but didn’t grab double-digit boards in either.

Kevin Love has done very well against the league’s traditional centers so far this season, and he comes into tonight’s game having doubled-up in three straight, posting 13 so far this season. As a member of the Cavaliers, Love has notched a double-double in seven of the 10 matchups against Philadelphia, including all three meetings last year.

Key: Master's Class

In today’s NBA, standard positions are almost irrelevant. Ben Simmons and LeBron James are perfect examples.

Listed as the Cavaliers’ starting power forward, LeBron James has played 1-through-5 so far this season. At whatever position he’s played, the four-time MVP is playing like he wants No. 5 – coming into tonight’s matchup having posted his second triple-double of the season, 57th of his Hall of Fame career.

In Friday’s win, James led both teams with 27 points, 16 boards, 13 assists and three blocks – netting eight of those assists in the first quarter.

Since his return to Cleveland, James hasn’t lost to the Sixers in nine tries – averaging 26.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 9.7 assists, posting six double-doubles and one triple-double over that span.

Although he missed his last game with a swollen left elbow, Ben Simmons is well out in front in the Rookie of the Year running – leading all first-year players in points, rebounds, assists, steals and minutes.

The 6-10 guard has posted double-figure scoring in every game he’s appeared in, notched double-digit boards in nine of those contests and 10-or-more dimes in four more.

On Monday night, LeBron will likely start off against Robert Covington, but NBA fans are eager to see the former No. 1 overall picks square off – and they’re about to get their wish in Philly.

Key: Running the Show

The already-deep Cavaliers bench gets a little deeper on Monday night with the expected return of Iman Shumpert to the rotation.

A sore right knee forced Shumpert to miss the last week of action, and Jose Calderon has done an admirable job stepping into the starting point guard spot – averaging 7.3 points, shooting 64 percent from the floor and 57 percent from long-range in that three-game span, committing just four total turnovers.

Calderon will remain the starter and Dwyane Wade will continue to primarily run the second unit – a role in which he’s excelled since moving to the bench back on October 24.

The 12-time All-Star has been rock-solid over Cleveland’s seven-game streak, averaging 12.0 points, 5.4 boards and 4.0 assists.

During the streak, five Cavaliers are averaging over 8.0 points per – with three of them (Wade, Kyle Korver and Jeff Green) coming off the bench. Korver, who’s notched double-digit scoring in his last two outings, is the squad’s third-leading scorer with Green right behind at 10.0 ppg so far this season.

The Sixers main weapons off the bench are T.J. McConnell, who impressed in a spot-start on Saturday, as well as veterans Amir Johnson and Jerryd Bayless.

Key: Sticking the Jae

If today’s theme is versatility, that label definitely belongs to Jae Crowder, who’ll do plenty of cross-matching on Monday night in Philly.

Aside from Embiid, the Sixers boast a talented frontcourt that includes the constantly-improving Robert Covington and the Rooke of the Year runner-up from a season ago, Dario Saric. Covington has turned himself into one of the league’s more efficient three-point shooters and Saric is coming off one of his best games of the season – a 21-point, seven-rebound, four assist effort in Philly’s recent win over Orlando.

On the offensive end, Crowder is playing his best ball of the season – tallying double-figures in each of the last three games – averaging 14.7 points on 52 percent shooting, including 47 percent from long-range and a perfect 9-for-9 mark from the stripe.

Crowder, who struggled earlier this season, has notched double-figures in five games during Cleveland’s recent run after doing so on just four occasions heading into the successful seven-game run.

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