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Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Five Keys: Cavaliers vs. Thunder

Greg Nelson/NBAE/Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele Beat Writer

Key: Home Cookin'

Before the season, the Cavaliers spoke about this year not being so much about wins and losses as it is one of “wins and lessons.” The Wine & Gold got a tough lesson on Monday night, dropping a heartbreaker in Orlando after putting together arguable their best second half of the season.

After outscoring the Magic, 32-12, in the third quarter the Cavaliers took a nine-point lead into the fourth – and a five-point lead into the final minute. But costly turnovers, a great defensive play by Nikola Vucevic and a questionable call on an in-bounds pass cost the Cavaliers their first road win of the season.

It’s back home and back to the drawing board for Coach Larry Drew, who signed a head coaching contract before Monday’s matchup in Orlando and will look to get his second home win of the season on Wednesday night.

It won’t be easy as the red-hot Thunder roll into town, bringing a five-game win streak with them. Their best player will be in street clothes, but it’ll still be an uphill battle for the young Cavaliers.

Cleveland has had a bunch of recent success against OKC of late – going 5-2 over the last seven meetings, including a 3-1 mark at The Q.

It’ll be a taller order this time around.

Key: Changing of the Guard

Sam Presti is one of the top GMs in the league, and you needn’t look any further than OKC’s starting point guard on Wednesday night to see why.

The Thunder expect to compete at the highest level of the Western Conference, and an insurance policy for their best player might just be what gets them over the top. With former MVP Russell Westbrook spraining his ankle in the Thunder’s Monday night win over the Pelicans, Dennis Schroeder – acquired in a three-team deal this offseason – stepped in and scored 11 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter.

After starting the first two games of the season, the German import has been exceptional off the bench – averaging 15.7 points and 5.1 assists over that seven-game stretch. He’ll be back in the starting lineup tonight, and he’ll have his hands full for most of it.

George Hill has been excellent at times this season, but no better than he was on Monday night in Orlando.

Like Schroder, the 11th-year man from IUPUI notched 11 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter – going 10-of-12 from the floor overall, including 2-of-2 from long-range, adding a game-high six assists, four boards and game-high four steals.

Aside from a rough night against Kemba Walker in Charlotte, Hill’s been very good of late – averaging 13.5 points over his last six, shooting 58 percent from the floor, 50 percent from deep and a perfect 10-of-10 from the stripe over that span.

Key: Lesson Learned

Instead of bolting for the West Coast this offseason, Paul George remained in OKC and after the squad’s slow start, the five-time All-Star has the Thunder humming – having won five straight after dropping their first four.

The five-time All-Star got off to an excellent start to the year, averaging 25.5 through his first six games before slowing down of late – scoring at a 17.0ppg in three games since.

George has averaged 19.2 points per in 28 regular and postseason matchups against the Cavs – including four 30-point outings and a 43-point explosion two seasons ago at The Q.

The Cavaliers will try to slow George down with Cedi Osman, who probably has been counting the seconds until he’s able to get back on the court following Monday’s loss. The young Macedonian committed a key turnover late in that loss and took it hard afterward.

Even with the miscue, Cedi had a solid night – notching his second double-double of the season with 11 points and 10 boards despite not shooting the ball particularly well, going just 5-of-17 from the floor, including 1-of-9 from deep.

The Cavs will need a re-focused Osman on Wednesday night if they hope to pull off the upset over OKC.

Key: Swishin' and Dishin'

The Cavaliers bench has been great this year, but it’s about to get a little thinner on Wednesday night and beyond following the news of Sam Dekker’s injury – with a sprained left ankle forcing him to miss the next 2-4 weeks of action.

Coach Drew will decide which way he wants to go with the starting lineup – (Dekker had started the last five games for Cleveland) – but either way, he’ll have to adjust his frontcourt rotation.

Last season, the Cavaliers’ reserves set a franchise mark, averaging 41.2 points per game. This year, the second unit is scoring at a 47.2ppg pace – good for 3rd-best in the NBA. So far this season, the bench has notched 40-plus points eight times, more than 50 four times and 60-plus once.

Jordan Clarkson extended his double-digit scoring streak to 10 straight after netting 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting, including 3-of-6 from three-point range.

As good as Clarkson’s been all season long, 15-year man JR Smith has been just as good over the past two games.

After getting a DNP-CD in last week’s home loss to the Nuggets, Coach Drew dusted off his veteran sharpshooter on the road – and Swish answered in style: netting a team-high 14 points on Saturday night in Charlotte, going 4-of-6 from long-range and 4-of-8 from the floor overall and dropping 14 more in Orlando, canning a pair of bombs, including what looked like the game-winning dagger with 42.2 to play.

Key: Big Man Battle

The young and retooling Wine & Gold have been searching for veteran leadership all season – and Tristan Thompson has been answering the call both on the court and off.

The longest-tenured Cavalier has been vocal as the Cavaliers have struggled early this season, and on Monday night he continued to put his money where his mouth is – going off for 19 points on 9-of-12 shooting to go with 16 boards (six off the offensive glass), four assists and a block.

It was Thompson’s third double-double of the season, the 138th of his career and the 10th game of at least 15 points and 15 boards.

Over his last four games, Tristan is averaging 12.0 points and 11.0 boards – and he’ll need all that juice tonight when he goes up against one of the toughest hombres in the Association with OKC’s Steven Adams.

The native New Zealander is one behind Thompson, already having posted four double-doubles this season.

Adams often just does the dirty work while OKC’s superstars handle the scoring, but he’s been a killer offensively against the Cavaliers. Over his last three meetings with Cleveland, the rugged big man is averaging 22.3 points on 74 percent shooting from the floor, adding 13.3 boards over that stretch.

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