Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Five Keys: Cavaliers vs. Warriors

Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor

Key: Familiar Foes

It’s another good news/bad news scenario for the Wine & Gold on MLK Day at The Q.

The good news is that their toughest road stretch of the season – one that spanned back to Christmas Day and saw them drop seven of eight contests away from home – is finally over. More good news is that the Cavs haven’t lost to a Western Conference opponent at The Q all season long (6-0), have won 13 straight on their home floor overall and, at 15-4, have the 3rd-best home record in the league.

The bad news is that the Wine & Gold are playing their worst ball of the season and their opponent in their first game back is the World Champion Warriors – the squad that precipitated their road woes three weeks ago in Oakland. A Steph Curry-less Golden State team dropped the Wine & Gold, 99-92, back on Christmas Day – with Kevin Durant finishing with 25 points and five blocks, Draymond Green notching a triple-double and the Warriors as a team holding the Cavs to a season-low 32 percent shooting.

Including that loss, the Cavaliers have dropped seven of their last nine. Some payback on Monday night would be a perfect way to turn things back around.

Key: Power Point Presentation

As he rehabbed from hip surgery earlier this season, there was an expectation that when Isaiah Thomas finally did return that there’d be some growing pains. And the Cavaliers are experiencing those growing pains right now – dropping two of I.T.’s first three starts.

It hasn’t been his fault – although the undersized star has struggled to find his shot of late, going 5-for-26 from the floor over his last two outings, including a 1-for-11 mark from beyond the arc.

Thomas didn’t suit up when these two teams faced off on Christmas Day, but he’s posted some big games against the Dubs, dating back to his days in Sacramento. As a member of the Celtics, he’s beaten the Warriors in two straight on their home floor, including a thrilling win two years ago that snapped their 54-game home win streak at Oracle Arena.

Steph Curry, who also didn’t play in that Christmas Day game, has picked up right where he left off before the ankle injury – averaging 35.2 points, 5.6 boards and 5.6 assists in his first five games back.

As he has against most teams, Curry has had some huge outings against Cleveland. But the Cavs have also had some good success against the former MVP, holding him to just 15 points on 4-for-11 shooting in last year’s Christmas Day win at The Q.

Key: Homecoming King

Even with the team struggling, LeBron James has maintained his MVP-level play – currently the only player in the league averaging at least 25.0 points, 8.0 boards, 8.0 assists while shooting at least 50 percent from the floor.

Numeral 23 followed up his rough 10-point game on Monday night in Minnesota with a pair of LeBron-like performances, including doubling-up in Friday night’s loss in Indiana – finishing with game-highs in points (27) and assists (11) on 11-for-25 shooting.

And like his teammates, he’ll be ready for some home cookin’ – averaging 29.5 points on 57 percent shooting to go with 9.5 rebounds and 9.5 assists over the course of Cleveland’s 13-game win streak at The Q.

James has obviously posted multiple monster games against the Warriors, but they held the King essentially in check on Christmas Day – finishing with 20 boards, six boards and six assists but also committing seven turnovers in the seven-point loss.

In that game, Draymond Green bounced back from some early frustrations to net just the sixth Christmas Day triple-double in history – netting 12 points, 12 rebounds and 11 dimes.

Since that game, Green’s gone on to notch six more double-doubles, with Golden State going 8-2 in the 10 games following their win over Cleveland.

Key: Lead Blocker

When it’s all said and done, Kevin Durant will go down as one of the greatest offensive players in NBA history – and he’s certainly still deadly on that end.

But this season, Durant has developed into one of the league’s toughest defenders – a feature very much on display in the first meeting this season when K.D. blocked five Cavalier attempts – including a key swat against LeBron James with 26.5 to play and the Wine & Gold trailing by three.

Durant continues to lead the Western Conference in blocked shots on a team that leads the league, trailing only Kristaps Porzingis for the NBA’s top mark.

And, oh yeah, there’s still that part about him being one of the most dynamic offensive talents of all-time; Two games ago, Durant became the second-youngest player in league history to top the 20,000-point mark -- doing so with a 40-point performance against the Clippers. Along with his top ranking on the defensive end, Durant is fourth in the league in scoring at 26.3 ppg – having notched 20-plus points on 26 occasions, 30-plus six more times and his 40-point outburst in his milestone game against the Clips.

He and LeBron will square off regularly on Monday night, but Jae Crowder and Jeff Green will also take a shot at slowing Durant down.

Green’s been good on both ends, but especially on the offensive side of late – averaging 14.3 points, shooting 43 percent from the floor, 42 percent from deep and 90 percent from the stripe over his last seven games, netting double-figures in six of them.

Key: Love Broker

The Wine & Gold couldn’t get much going offensively in that first meeting of the year back on Christmas Day with the exception of one player – Kevin Love – who finished with a game-high 31 points, going 9-for-25 from the floor, including 6-for-11 from long-range and 7-of-7 from the stripe, adding a season-high 18 rebounds and a pair of steals in the loss.

But Love wasn’t immune to the team-wide funk that enveloped the Cavaliers on their recent roadie – struggling from the floor against Boston, Minnesota and Toronto – combining for 15 points on 4-for-26 shooting in those lopsided losses. But Cleveland’s four-time All-Star also flashed moments of brilliance – finishing with 27 points, canning six triples, in the Cavs’ win over Orlando and doubling-up for the first time since December 30th with a 21-point, 10-rebound effort in Friday night’s defeat in Indiana.

The Warriors, of course, don’t put much emphasis on their big man in the offensive scheme, although crafty veteran Zaza Pachulia will be back in the middle after missing the Christmas Day matchup with Cleveland.

The 42nd overall pick from the legendary 2003 NBA Draft, Zaza will never be confused with Wilt Chamberlain offensively, but he is the model of efficiency around the rim – shooting 61 percent from the floor since returning from a left shoulder injury in late-December.