Keys to the Game
Five Keys: Cavaliers at Wizards
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Key: Capital Gains
The Cavaliers stayed perfect on their four-game homestand and are easily the hottest club in the Conference – having won 17 of their last 18 outings – but the going gets a little tougher on Sunday when they travel to D.C. to take on their old rivals, the Washington Wizards.
On Saturday night, the Wine & Gold rode LeBron James’ fourth triple-double of the season, pulling away from the shorthanded Jazz late in the third quarter and not looking back, holding on for the 109-100 win at The Q.
The Wizards, who currently sit atop the Southeastern Conference with a 16-13 mark, have been all over the place of late, but after a difficult five-game road trip are coming off back-to-back wins over Toronto and the Clippers, who they rallied past on Thursday night at Capital One Arena.
Tyronn Lue’s squad has already topped the Wiz once this year – dropping them in a 130-122 shootout back on November 3. Since the 2014-15 season, the Cavaliers have gone 8-4 against Washington, including a 5-2 mark in the nation’s capital.
Key: Triple Trouble
There aren’t many teams who LeBron doesn’t bring his A-game against, but there’s also a short list of squads that always bring out the best in the planet’s best player – and the Washington Wizards are near the top of it.
One doesn’t need to look any farther than the King’s previous two appearances in D.C. for proof.
In what might have been last season’s best regular season game, James notched 32 points, a (then-career-high) 17 assists and seven boards. But three of those points came on a miracle three-pointer directly in front of the Wizards’ bench to tie the game at the buzzer. James fouled out early in overtime, but Cleveland held on for the thrilling 140-135 win.
That was just a warmup for James’ next visit to Washington earlier this season – going off for 57 points, his highest scoring output since dropping 61 on the Hornets while still a member of the Heat.
In that November 3 victory, the four-time MVP (who continues lining up No. 5 on a nightly basis) finished 23-of-34 from the floor, including 2-of-4 from long-range, to go with 11 boards, seven assists, three steals and a pair of blocks.
And he comes into this evening’s contest just as hot – putting together back-to-back triple-doubles against the Lakers and Jazz as he prepares for the team he loves to torment, especially in their own gym.
Key: Beal Street
When a team takes on the Wizards, that means facing an electric starting backcourt that’s as good as any in either Conference.
Bradley Beal is having an outstanding campaign through the first 29 games – leading Washington in scoring, averaging a career-best 23.6 ppg.
Earlier this month, Beal hung 51 points on Portland and put up another 40 on Phoenix back in early November. The following game, he went off for 36 points in a losing effort against the Wine & Gold.
Beal can score in bunches, but opponents can be equally flummoxed by Washington’s All-Star point guard, John Wall, who returned to the lineup this week after missing the previous nine games with a left knee injury. Wall handed out a team-best 15 assists in the Wizards’ loss to the Cavs earlier this season, but Cleveland completely bottled him up on the offensive end, holding the former No. 1 overall pick to 13 points on 4-for-13 shooting.
The Cavs’ starting backcourt can’t match that kind of firepower, but the tandem’s been good enough to guide Cleveland to 17 of 18 wins. Jose Calderon ran his starting mark to 13-2 on Saturday night – shooting a solid 3-of-6 from the floor without committing a single miscue in 22 minutes of work.
JR Smith continues his erratic season, following his 3-for-4 shooting night against L.A. with a 1-for-6 outing in Saturday night’s win at The Q.
Key: Marcin in the Middle
There’s no shame in being overshadowed by LeBron James – there aren’t many players in the past 15 years who haven’t been.
Once again, Kevin Love is quietly putting together another All-Star season and although he struggled in the first meeting against Washington, that’s been a big exception to the rule through the first 29 contests.
Over his last eight outings, the 10-year vet is averaging 20.9 points and 11.0 boards per – posting six double-doubles over that stretch.
Love might’ve struggled in that November 3 win in Washington, but he did anything but in his previous visit to Capital One Arena – going off for a team-high 39 points on 11-for-17 shooting, including 6-of-10 from beyond the arc, adding 12 boards, three steals and three assists in the overtime classic.
Love will lock horns with the Polish Hammer, Marcin Gortat, always a tough assignment despite his offensive numbers taking a slight dip this season. But Gortat has tallied double-figures in seven of his last eight games against Cleveland – including a 15-point performance back on November 3, going 6-of-7 from the floor to go with five boards and a block.
Key: Return of the Cedi
The Cavaliers second unit has been an area of strength all season long and on Saturday night, they might have officially added a young gun to the already-potent mix.
In Saturday night’s win over Utah, three Cavalier reserves notched double-figures, but one of the trio was actually rookie Cedi Osman, who finished with a career-high 10 points on 4-for-5 shooting but, almost as importantly, was on the floor during crunch time of the nip-and-tuck victory.
Kyle Korver and Jeff Green each notched double-figures as well, with Korver going 5-of-9 from the floor, including 2-of-3 from deep, for 12 points and Green was a perfect 3-for-3 from long-distance in the win.
Korver has now scored in double-figures in four straight games and currently leads all NBA reserves in plus/minus (+217) and is tied for the top spot with 77 triples made. He also leads the Association with his 37 made triples in the fourth quarter.
Green is almost as hot – averaging 12.0 points per over his last nine outings – shooting 54 percent from the floor and 43 percent from long-distance and is a perfect 22-of-22 from the stripe over that stretch.
But the Wizards can also bring some firepower off the bench. Third-year pro, Kelly Oubre Jr. – who went for 21 points in the Nov. 3 meeting with Cleveland – is having a breakout season with Washington, averaging 11.2 points despite starting just five games this season.
Mike Scott, who's hurt the Cavs in the past, has been exceptional of late – finishing with 22 points in Thursday’s win and hitting on a jaw-dropping 79 percent clip from the floor (34-for-43) over his last six games.