Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Five Keys: Cavaliers vs. Sixers

David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor

Key: Home Cookin'

Things got a little too close for comfort on Tuesday night, but the Cavaliers were able to pull away for a much-needed win – their first at home since the Break – dropping the Nets for the 10th straight occasion at The Q.

All four newcomers – plus LeBron James – came up big in the victory, with Rodney Hood canning the game-winning and-one with less than a minute to play.

On Thursday night, the longest homestand of the season rolls on when the Wine & Gold host Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and the young, hungry Sixers for a nationally-televised tilt.

The Sixers, at 32-27, currently sit in the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference Playoff picture, trying reach the postseason for the first time since 2012. Philly had been red-hot, winners of seven-straight straddling the All-Star Break. But they’ve cooled off of late, dropping their last two – including a Tuesday night heart-breaker in Miami.

Recent history is on the Cavaliers side on Thursday night; Cleveland has taken 11-straight against the Sixers, including 14 of the previous 15 meetings and both matchups this season.

Key: The One and Only

LeBron James seems to reach or surpass an historic milestone nearly every time he takes the floor, but Tuesday night’s accomplishments were even more impressive than usual.

The four-time MVP closed out the month with a 31-point, 12-rebound, 11-assist performance against the Nets which allowed him to finish February averaging a triple-double for the first time in his career. In those 10 contests, James averaged 27.0 points on .546 shooting to go with 10.5 rebounds and 10.5 assists.

The career goal that he reached is singular in the game’s history – becoming the first player in NBA history to tally 30,000 points, 8,000 rebounds and 8,000 assists – reaching the latter with his 11th assist of the night.

LeBron comes into tonight’s contest having had his way with the Sixers so far this season, averaging 30.0 points, 13.5 boards and 9.5 assists in Cleveland’s two wins. Over the course of the Cavaliers’ 11-game run over Philly, the 14-time All-Star has notched eight double-doubles, including a pair of triple-doubles along the way.

Key: Ben There, Done That

The Association may never see another player like LeBron James, but do-it-all Sixers rookie, Ben Simmons, is starting to look like a reasonable facsimile.

The economy-sized point guard from LSU missed his entire first season with an injury – seemingly a tradition in Philly’s process – but has been outstanding this year – averaging 16.7 points, 7.7 boards, 7.4 assists and 1.8 steals, tallying double-figures in 51 of his 57 to lead all rookies.

The leading candidate for this year’s top Rookie honors, Simmons has posted 37 games of at least 10 points, five boards and five assists – trailing only Russell Westbrook and LeBron James. Since 1963-64, no rookie has had more such games than Simmons through the first 60 games of his career.

He’s also been good on the defensive end – tallying 14-straight games with at least one steal and netting 19 since February 6 – tied for the most in the NBA over that stretch with Anthony Davis.

Simmons has been solid, but not spectacular, in his first two career meetings against the Cavs – averaging 12.0 points, 7.0 boards and 6.0 assists, tallying a double-double (14 points, 10 dimes) in Cleveland’s December 9 win in the City of Brotherly Love.

Key: Trust the Process

The player who has embodied Philadelphia’s “process” is charismatic big man Joel Embiid, who followed up an All-Rookie First Team season last year with an All-Star nod in 2017-18.

The 23-year-old from Cameroon was the third overall pick back in 2014 but didn’t make his mark until last year. Embiid played in just 31 games last year and this season, has already posted 31 double-doubles – including 11 in his last 13 outings – averaging 24.6 points and 12.2 rebounds over that stretch.

He’s notched double-figures in 63 straight games dating back to last year and has scored at least 20 points in 36 games this year for Philly – including 23 contests of at least 20 and 10 boards.

Tristan Thompson and Larry Nance Jr. will have their hands full with the Process on Tuesday night.

Thompson registered his second-straight game of 13 boards in Tuesday night’s win over the Nets while Nance has been Cleveland’s swiss army knife in relief – notching his first double-double as a Cavalier in the victory over Brooklyn – finishing with 10 points, 10 boards and a block.

Key: Sweet Relief

The Cavaliers' second unit has been excellent all season and they’ve somehow gotten even better since making the roster-altering trio of deals in early February.

Cleveland’s bench has now tallied at least 50 points in five of their previous seven games – averaging 50.9 ppg since February 9. Four reserves notched double-figures in Tuesday night’s win over the Nets – the second time Cleveland has done that in the last five games – as the bench combined for 52 points (without the services of Jeff Green, who missed his first game this season with lower back soreness).

Jordan Clarkson, the NBA’s second-leading bench scorer at 14.3 ppg, has netted at least 14 points in five of his six outings with the Wine & Gold and did so again on Tuesday, going 5-of-10 from the floor, including 2-of-4 from long-range. Rodney Hood was more aggressive, just as Tyronn Lue requested – finishing with 14 points, including the game-winning three-point play with just over 40 ticks to play.

Kyle Korver did most of his damage in the second quarter of Tuesday’s win – netting 14 of his 18 points in the period, going 4-for-7 from three-point range on the night.

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