Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Five Keys: Cavaliers at Wizards

Ned Dishman/NBAE/Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor

Key: Capital Gains

The Cavaliers picked a wrong time to go into a funk, but Friday night’s contest provides a perfect opportunity to snap out of it – taking on one of the Conference’s main contenders in John Wall and the Wizards.

The two franchises have a deep and sometimes bitter rivalry that dates back decades and the current Wizards have designs on making a statement tonight in D.C.

After winning their first two games of the season, the Wine & Gold have proceeded to drop five of their next six, including Wednesday night’s one-sided defeat to the young Pacers, who shot 62 percent from long-range in handing Cleveland the 124-107 loss. The Cavs have looked sluggish on the defensive end, and if that hasn’t cut the mustard against their previous four foes, it won’t work against the Wizards on the road.

But Washington comes into tonight with their own problems, having dropped three of four after winning their first three contests of the season – including a home loss to the Suns on Wednesday night.

The Cavaliers have done well against Washington in the recent past, including their last visit to Capital One Arena – a 140-135 overtime classic. Tyronn Lue’s squad hopes it doesn’t take an extra-session on Friday, but at this point they’ll take a win any way they can get it.

Key: History Class

There are certain Eastern Conference teams that have always brought out the beast in LeBron James, and the Washington Wizards are one of them.

Dating back to the Wine & Gold’s early Playoff days to his recent three-point miracle in the aforementioned OT contest, Numeral 23 loves to bring it in the nation’s capital.

In three games against the Wizards last season, The King averaged 27.7 points, 9.3 boards and 10.0 assist, shooting 54 percent from the floor and adding 1.3 steals and 1.7 blocks in the process. In that February classic here in D.C. last campaign, James went off for 32 points on 12-for-18 shooting and a career-high 17 assists.

And of course, LeBron comes into the contest on the cusp of making more NBA history.

In Tuesday’s game against Indy, he posted his 400th career regular season game of 30-plus points. And on Friday, if he’s able to manage at least 10 points tonight, LeBron will become just the second player in league history – joining Michael Jordan – to notch double-digits in 800 straight games. With his 8th point tonight, the four-time MVP will become just the seventh player (and youngest) in league history to reach the 29,000-point plateau.

Key: Hitting the Wall

The Cavaliers were 2-0 with Derrick Rose in the starting lineup before he missed the next four games with an ankle injury suffered late in that second win in Milwaukee.

The thinking was that the Wine & Gold would get straight with Rose back in the lineup. It hasn’t quite worked out that way in the two games since his return, but Rose himself has been very good, including Wednesday’s 19-point performance against the Pacers – going 9-of-13 from the floor with four boards.

The team and Rose would love to see his assist numbers rise – he’s averaging 1.8 apg this year – but that will probably come with more familiarity with his new teammates. He’s had no problems scoring the basketball in his first four games as a Cavalier, however, notching double-digits in every contest, averaging 15.0 points on 51 percent shooting.

Rose will have his work cut out for him tonight – going up against the Wizards’ second-leading scorer and the league’s second-leading assist man in John Wall.

The No. 1 overall pick two seasons after Rose, Wall has been Mr. Consistent for the Wizards since his arrival, averaging 21.6 points and 9.7 assists this year (and 21.0 and 9.6 in 21 games vs. Cleveland) en route to his fifth All-Star appearance in February.

Key: Double-Trouble

In terms of All-Star-caliber consistency, you can’t get much steadier than Kevin Love’s been through the first eight games of the season.

He’s tied for the league’s best mark with seven double-doubles so far – averaging 18.4 points and 11.4 boards. There’s nothing to suggest he won’t continue that stretch on Friday night in D.C.

In three games against the Wizards last season, Love averaged a double-double (23.3 ppg, 11.7 rpg), shooting an even 50 percent from the floor, including 53 percent from long-range.

As great as LeBron’s performance was in last year’s overtime thriller here at Capital One Arena, Love’s might’ve been that much better – exploding for 39 points on 11-for-17 shooting, including 6-of-10 from long-range and 11-for-11 from the stripe, adding 12 rebounds, three assists and three steals in 42 minutes of work.

Normally, Love would square off against Markieff Morris, who returns tonight from a one-game suspension. But with Tristan Thompson out for maybe a month with a left calf strain, Love might have to deal with the Polish Hammer, Marcin Gortat, who’s currently averaging a double-double himself –11.9 ppg, 10.1 rpg -- trying to do so for the third time in his career.

Key: Bench Trial

Cavaliers reserve Jeff Green will likely have plenty of family and friends on hand for Friday night’s contest in D.C. – near where he grew up and exactly where he played his college ball.

Green is coming off his fourth double-digit outing in his first year with the Wine & Gold – leading all reserves with 15 points on 6-for-8 shooting to go with three boards and a pair of steals.

Cleveland’s second unit will get a little thinner on Friday night, with Jae Crowder re-joining the starting five after moving back to the bench three games ago. In either role, Crowder has struggled to find his rhythm so far – shooting 37 percent from the floor and not defending at his normal level.

Cleveland’s other top reserves – Dwyane Wade and Kyle Korver – will also be asked to pick up more of the load.

Wade followed up his 15-point performance in New Orleans with a pair of quiet performances against New York and Indy. Korver came into Wednesday’s contest on a roll – shooting an even 50 percent from deep over his previous four games – but even he cooled off against Indiana – finishing 1-of-5 from beyond the arc.