Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Five Keys: Cavaliers vs. Sixers

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

Key: Streak Reset

After having their 13-game win streak snapped on Friday night in Indiana, the Wine & Gold gear back up for another one – facing off against the up-and-coming Sixers on Saturday night at The Q.

In the Cavs’ loss to Indy – their first since falling in Houston back on November 9 – Tyronn Lue’s squad took a six-point lead at half, but cooled off to close the third quarter and went completely frigid in the fourth.

The Sixers have leveled off after a strong start – dropping three of five after the Cavaliers rolled them by 20 in Philly back on November 27, including Thursday’s heartbreaker to the visiting Lakers.

In that late-November win, the Wine & Gold allowed 30 points to Joe Embiid, but bottled up Ben Simmons and the rest of the squad, holding the Sixers – who’d won three straight coming in – to 38 percent shooting, including a 3-for-28 mark from long-range.

Friday illustrated that streaks come and go – but Cleveland would love to run their win streak over the Sixers to 11 straight – having never lost to Philadelphia with LeBron James back in a Cavs uniform

Key: Generation Gap

LeBron was about the only Cavalier who didn’t cool off in the fourth quarter of Friday’s loss in Indiana, going 3-for-5 from the floor in the quarter and 12-for-22 on the night, extending his streak of games shooting better than 50 percent to a baker’s dozen – shooting .579 from the field, including 46 percent from long-range and 70 percent from the stripe over that stretch.

In his 76th career contest against the Pacers, James finished with a team-best 29 points, leading both squads with 10 boards and eight assists.

Over the course of Cleveland’s 10-game run over the Sixers, LeBron has topped the 30-point mark four times, including his 30-point, 14-rebound performance back on November 27.

He’ll be half of tonight’s marquee matchup, squaring off serious Rookie of the Year candidate, Ben Simmons.

Like the King, the 6-10 Simmons can do a little bit of everything and he comes into the contest with some gaudy numbers for a first-year pro – averaging 17.7 points, 9.5 boards and 7.5 assists per. Jae Crowder and the Cavs held Simmons in check in their first matchup (10 points, 8 rebounds), but the former LSU star went off for 31 and 18 in the following game.

It’ll be interesting to see how he fares against Cleveland in Round 2 at The Q.

Key: Cutting Out the Middle Man

Joel Embiid is one of the league’s brightest and most charismatic young stars and the Sixers are going to be as careful as possible with their star big man. With that in mind, reports are that Embiid will not suit up for Saturday’s contest at The Q, saving all his love for DeMarcus Cousins and Karl-Anthony Towns – who the Sixers face in the following two games of their mini-road trip.

That news will not be totally unwelcomed by Kevin Love, who battled Embiid in the first meeting this season, as the former Jayhawk leading Philly with 30 of the team’s 91 points and leading them with 11 boards.

Love struggled in that contest, but that’s been a rarity this season – with Cleveland’s four-time All-Star ranked right alongside LeBron James for the 4th-best mark in the league with 17 double-doubles. Love doubled-up in four straight games heading into last night’s loss in Indiana, but like most of the rest of the squad, went cold after intermission.

The 10-year vet also had notched four straight double-doubles against the Sixers before finishing with 13 points and three boards in late November. But if Embiid isn’t in the lineup, that’ll make it much easier for Love to get back into his groove.

Key: Bench Trial

In the first meeting against the Sixers this season, even with LeBron James topping the 30-point plateau, Cleveland’s bench outscored the starters, 57-56. In that victory, Jeff Green, Dwyane Wade and Channing Frye all scored in double-figures and Kyle Korver canned three triples.

The Cavaliers could’ve used some of that production on Friday night in Indiana, but after rattling off a month’s worth of consecutive wins, the team had to collectively cool off sometime.

On Friday, Cleveland’s second unit – which came into the contest averaging 40.9 ppg, good for 5th-best in the league – combined for just 23 points. Wade was solid, finishing with nine points and four assists – going 4-of-6 from the floor – but he tallied just two points after intermission and the bench as a whole didn’t score a point in the fourth quarter.

That’s unlikely to happen again anytime soon as the Cavs start a four-game homestand with the Sixers tonight.

If Embiid doesn’t play for Philly, it shortens an already depleted bench, still without this past June’s top overall pick Markelle Fultz and possibly last year’s Rookie of the Year runner-up, Dario Saric

Key: Shooter's Touch

It’s been a long Process in the City of Brotherly Love over the past few years, but as the franchise finally tries to compete for a postseason spot, they knew they’d need to add some veteran leadership. They did so with the signing of J.J. Redick, who’s been a versatile complement to their young talent this season – even filling in at forward in Philly’s recent loss to the Lakers.

The 11-year veteran from Duke has averaged double-figures in each of the least eight seasons and is averaging an even 16.0 points – good for 4th on the team – this year.

He’s had some nice games against the Wine & Gold over his career, but Cleveland held him in check in late November – netting 11 points on 4-for-16 shooting.

Depending on Joel Embiid’s availability, Redick will likely be back in his normal position and see plenty of J.R. Smith – who was one of just two Cavs, along with LeBron, to score in the fourth quarter of last night’s loss in Indiana.

Swish tied a season-high with five triples in that contest, going 5-of-10 from deep for 15 points, bouncing back from a pair of quiet performances. J.R. was solid in the first meeting against Philly this season – finishing with 11 points, going 3-of-5 from beyond the arc, 4-of-6 from the floor overall.

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