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Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Five Keys: Cavaliers at Thunder

David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele Beat Writer

Key: Rolling Thunder

Entering their toughest stretch of the young season, the new-look Cavaliers have been undaunted – dropping Philly and Houston in successive nights and giving the Timberwolves all they could handle on Monday evening at The Q.

And the hits keep coming – this time on the road – as the Wine & Gold travel to Oklahoma City on Wednesday night followed by a visit to Beantown on Friday.

On Monday in Cleveland, the T-Wolves used an 11-0 run early in the second quarter to give themselves just enough breathing room to hold the Cavs off the rest of the way as Cleveland’s backcourt cooled off after a red-hot weekend.

Despite weathering a rash of injuries themselves, the Thunder have bounced back this season, going 12-3 after starting the season with four consecutive losses.

One of those 12 wins came against the Cavaliers back on November 7 at Quicken Loans Arena, with Dennis Schroder outdueling Collin Sexton in the first start of the Young Bull’s career.

The Wine & Gold have won two of the last three here at Chesapeake Energy Arena, but tonight’s matchup should be a taller order than those previous visits.

Key: Brodie's Back

The last time these two squads locked up, Dennis Schroder led both teams in scoring with 28 points. On Wednesday night, he’ll be coming off the bench.

That means that Russell Westbrook is back in the lineup for OKC.

The former MVP has dealt with the injury bug so far this season, but he’s back in business now – having notched two triple-doubles and two double-doubles in the four games since returning to the lineup, including a 16-point/12-assist/10-rebound effort in the Thunder’s recent loss to the Nuggets.

Westbrook has had his share of good games against Cleveland in the past, but in 18 meetings he has never topped the 30-point mark.

Rookie Collin Sexton will try to extend that streak to 19 games on Wednesday night. After averaging 26.0 points in back-to-back wins over the Sixers and Rockets, Collin Sexton struggled on Monday night against Minnesota – going 5-of-19 from the floor for 11 points to go with seven boards and four assists.

Still, the Young Bull has tallied double-figure scoring in all nine of his starts this year, averaging 18.7 points, 3.8 boards and 2.8 assists per. So far this season, Sexton ranks fourth among rookies in scoring (14.4 ppg), fifth in assists (2.5 apg) and tops the rookie class in free throw percentage (.889).

Key: Facing Forward

Russell Westbrook has struggled to stay in the lineup consistently this season, but that hasn’t been the case for Paul George – who’s been excellent all season for OKC.

After eschewing L.A. for the Panhandle this past offseason, the five-time All-Star is back to his old tricks this year – averaging a career-best 24.0 ppg along with career-bests in rebounding, assists and steals.

Westbrook might not have posted a 30-point night against the Wine & Gold, but George has had no such problem – topping that mark on five occasions, including a 43-point outburst at The Q while still a member of the Pacers.

Of course, the Cavs will try to throw different looks at the 10th overall pick of the 2010 Draft, but Cedi Osman will draw the starting assignment.

In his first year as a starter, the sophomore from Macedonia has had his share of ups and downs. In two games late last week against the Lakers and Sixers, Osman averaged 20.5 points on 52 percent shooting from the floor, including 54 percent from deep. In his next two outings, against Houston and Minnesota, he dipped down to 7.5 ppg – shooting 22 percent from the floor and from long-range.

The Cavaliers will need more of the former and less of the latter to get a win over OKC on Wednesday night.

Key: Cage Match

Things you won’t be seeing in the post tonight: finesse, subtlety, nuance.

Tonight in OKC, it’s a matchup of two of the league’s true bruisers at the center position as Steven Adams and Tristan Thompson lock horns down low.

As he has for many opponents, Adams has been a thorn in the Cavaliers side since being taken with the 12th overall pick in 2013. The New Zealand import has improved in each of his first six years in the league and comes into tonight’s contest averaging a double-double on the season.

Despite his nine-point effort in the earlier matchup between these two teams this season, Adams has had much success against the Cavaliers – averaging 22.3 points and 13.3 boards in the previous three meetings. Adams has grabbed double-digit boards in each of the last six games against Cleveland.

Tristan Thompson has been excellent all season long, but even better since November 5 – netting eight double-doubles while averaging 14.5 points on 57 percent shooting to go with 13.8 boards over that stretch.

In Monday night’s loss to the T-Wolves, Thompson went for 16 points on 7-for-10 shooting to go with a game-high 11 boards, three assists and a steal.

Tristan also doubled-up in Cleveland’s loss to OKC earlier this season – notching 10 points and a game-high 15 rebounds.

Key: Second-in-Command

So far this season, the Cavaliers offense has gone how their Sixth Man has – and on Monday night at The Q, neither could get jumpstarted.

For just the second time this season, Jordan Clarkson failed to notch double-figure scoring – finishing with just four points on 1-for-5 shooting in 21 uneventful minutes of work off the bench.

But Monday’s clunker did come on the heels of a rock-solid three-game run – averaging 19.7 points on 45 percent shooting as the Wine & Gold took two-of-three.

Clarkson – who had probably his best all-around floor game of the season in the first meeting against OKC, netting 11 points, nine boards and eight assists – has still tallied double-figure scoring in 17 of Cleveland’s first 19 games and still leads the squad in scoring with a 15.5 ppg average.

OKC’s main threat off the bench is the aforementioned Dennis Schroder, who led both teams with 28 points (despite not registering a single assist) in the Thunder’s previous win over Cleveland this year.

That was while the German import was still starting.

He’s been just as good off the bench, averaging 16.6 points per in 10 appearances off the bench – including a recent 32-point outburst against the Champs, going 12-for-19 from the floor, including 5-of-6 from long-range in just 28 minutes of work.


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