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Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Five Keys: Cavaliers vs. Warriors

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele Beat Writer

Key: Warriors -- Come Out and Play

It’d probably be a stretch to call Wednesday night’s meeting between the Cavs and Warriors a Finals rematch, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be a battle at The Q.

The Wine & Gold aren’t the same team that Golden State topped in four games last June, but they are vastly improved from the squad that dropped 12 of its first 13 games, have escaped the Central Division cellar and are continuing to show progress after coming off a clutch victory over a struggling Nets team on Monday night in Brooklyn.

In that contest, Alec Burks slammed home the game-winner with 3.2 to play as the Wine & Gold avoided what could have been a painful late-game collapse and snapped a four-game skein, improved to 14-4 in their last 18 meetings with Brooklyn and gave themselves a bit of momentum for tonight’s big matchup against the Champs.

The Warriors, battling the early-season injury bug themselves, are slowly putting their campaign back together as Steph Curry returns from a groin injury.

The Dubs have dropped two of their previous three, but are coming off a 17-point win over the Hawks on Monday night in Atlanta as their five-game roadie rolls on tonight at The Q.

Key: Splash Down

Steph Curry was off to another stellar start to his season before a groin injury forced him to miss 11 games – having scored at least 30 points in six of Golden State’s first nine outings before being sidelined.

With Curry on the shelf, the Warriors went a pedestrian 5-6 in his absence – and they’ve split the two games since he returned. In those two contests, the former two-time MVP is averaging 28.5 points on 53 percent shooting, including a team-leading 30-point outburst on Monday night in the ATL, going 10-of-17 from the floor and canning six triples in the process.

So far this year, Curry ranks 5th in the league in three-point field goal percentage and 4th in free throw percentage.

Cavaliers rookie Collin Sexton has been getting an education against some of the game’s best point guards of late, and that trend continues on Wednesday night.

The Young Bull has come back down to earth a little over the last week or so, but he still posted a 15-point performance on Monday in Brooklyn despite relenting to George Hill over game’s closing minutes.

Among his rookie class, though, Sexton is tops in free throw percentage, 2nd in double-figure scoring games, 4th in points and 4th in assists.

Key: Canadian Bakin'

Although both teams are much different than they’ve been in the recent past, one familiar face to the Warriors is Tristan Thompson, who’s always had good success against Golden State – (and mostly every other opponent over the past month).

On Monday night in Brooklyn, the 8th-year big man notched his 13th double-double of the season and 11th in his past 14 games – grabbing a game-high 14 boards to go with 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting, adding two assists and a game-high two blocks.

Over that recent 14-game stretch, the blue collar big is averaging 14.2 points on 55 percent shooting to go with 13.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists.

Thompson has also posted 10 double-doubles in 35 career contests against the Warriors.

The center spot is purely ornamental for Golden State – which had started third-year big man Damien Jones for most of the season but turned to Kevon Looney on Monday night in Atlanta.

Looney responded well, posting just his fourth double-digit scoring performance of the year, finishing with 14 points on 7-for-9 shooting, adding four boards, five assists, two blocks and a pair of steals.

Key: Facing Forward

Even with Steph Curry not at 100 percent, the Warriors can always turn to another former MVP in Kevin Durant – who’s having another spectacular season despite all the drama with Draymond Green.

Including Monday’s 28-point performance against Atlanta, Durant has now scored at least 20 points in 13 straight games – his longest such run with the Dubs – averaging 32.8 points on 49 percent shooting over that stretch.

In the three games just before Curry returned to the lineup, Durant averaged 48.0 points per – shooting 52 percent from the floor and 95 percent from the stripe with a pair of double-doubles in that mix.

If Coach Drew goes with the same starting lineup that he has in the last two games, Cedi Osman should draw Durant for a starting assignment.

The sophomore from Macedonia has struggled with consistency so far this season, posting four 20-point outings but also nine other contests with single-figure scoring.

After posting back-to-back 20-point games against the Lakers and Sixers, Osman has struggled shooting the ball – going just 29 percent from the floor and 20 percent from long-range over his last six games, despite posting a pair of double-digit scoring games over that stretch.

If the Cavs are going to pull the upset on Wednesday night, they’ll need Cedi at the top of his game.

Key: Burks' Lakefront

Alec Burks has certainly made a solid first impression in Cleveland – netting double-figures in all three games he’s played and closing out the third one with a game-winning dunk on Monday night in Brooklyn.

With the game tied at 97-apiece, Burks worked his way around a Rodney Hood screen, dribbled behind his back past Spencer Dinwiddie and threw down the two-hand slam that sealed Cleveland’s fifth win of the season.

In the victory, the 8th-year swingman from Colorado tallied 13 points on 5-for-13 shooting to go with a season-best seven boards – and in three games with the Wine & Gold, is averaging 13.7 points and 6.7 boards in 26 minutes off the bench.

Burks has provided the Cavaliers with a solid 1-2 scoring punch off the bench when teamed with the Wine & Gold’s top scorer, Jordan Clarkson, who doubled-up for the first time this season on Monday night – leading the Cavaliers with 20 points on 9-for-22 shooting to go with a season-best 10 boards, four assists and a steal.

So far this season, the Cavaliers’ bench has tied or outscored their opponents on 17 occasions, including Monday’s victory over the Nets. The Wine & Gold’s second unit currently ranks 7th in the Association, averaging 41.8 points per contest.

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