Keys to the Game
Five Keys: Cavaliers vs. Wizards
Key: Wine & Gold Roll
With a week to go before the All-Star Break, it would’ve been hard to imagine the Wine & Gold champing at the bit to start the second half.
Heading into their last home contest, the Cavaliers had dropped 13 of 19 games – including an uninspired effort in Orlando. The following night, LeBron James’ drilled the game-winner against Minnesota in overtime, the following day the Cavs brass re-energized the roster with a trio of trades and Cleveland hasn’t lost since – taking a four-game win streak into the final 26-game run, beginning with tonight’s eagerly-anticipated matchup against the Wizards at The Q.
Tyronn Lue’s squad – which has topped the 120-point mark in each of its last four wins – has taken both contests against Washington this season and are 9-3 over their last dozen meetings, including a 106-99 victory in mid-December in the nation’s capital.
Washington went into the All-Star Break almost as hot as the Cavaliers – winning seven of their previous nine. The Wizards are right behind the Wine & Gold in the Eastern Conference Playoff picture – looming 1.5 games back for the 4th seed.
With all of the reasons above – plus the four new Cavaliers making their home debut in a nationally-televised tilt – it should be a wild one on Thursday night on the corner of Huron and Ontario.
Key: Homecoming Kings
After a brilliant two-game debut on the road, the Cavaliers quartet of new players acquired in last week’s Deadline deals will finally get their chance to perform for the home folks on Thursday night.
The night should be most memorable for Larry Nance Jr., who comes in fresh off his impressive effort in the Slam Dunk contest over the weekend, playing under the rafters where his dad’s jersey is immortalized. Nance Jr. had a relatively quiet first game against Boston, but was huge in the second half of Cleveland’s win over OKC, finishing with 13 points, nine boards – eight off the offensive glass – and a pair of blocks.
Jordan Clarkson and Rodney Hood were outstanding off the bench in both contests.
For Clarkson, it was the 10th double-figure scoring game in his last 12 off the bench. For Hood, it was his fourth straight – averaging 19.3 points per over that stretch.
George Hill hasn’t put up big numbers over his first two games, but he’s steadied the starting point guard position on both ends – notching 12 points in the win over Boston and handing out four helpers without committing a turnover in Cleveland’s road win over the Thunder in OKC.
Key: Best of the Best
In terms of momentum, it’s hard to picture LeBron James rolling into the season’s second half with a bigger head of steam than he has for tonight’s tipoff.
After posting 29 points, 10 boards and eight assists in Sunday’s Midseason Classic, leading his team to the thrilling 148-145 comeback win, LeBron took home his third career All-Star Game MVP in his 14th straight start.
Sunday night’s performance was merely an extension of what the King had been doing in Cleveland’s four-game win streak leading into the weekend.
Over the course of the Cavs’ heater – James averaged 30.0 points – going 53 percent from the floor, 46 percent from deep – to go with 13.0 assists and 9.5 boards.
That’s bad news for the Wizards, a team James has tormented with regularity – tallying double-doubles in each of his last eight outings against Washington, including a triple-double (20 points, 15 assists and 11 boards) in the last matchup on December 17 in D.C. Numeral 23 also posted a franchise-tying 57-point performance against the Wizards already this season and is averaging 38.5 points, 11.0 rebounds, 11.0 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks against Scott Brooks’ squad.
The man who’s been named the East’s February Player of the Month in each of the last six seasons is as energized as he’s been all year as we gear up for the second stanza – gearing up for a possible run at MVP No. 5.
Key: Hot Shots
Thursday’s contest will feature two of the most deadly long-range marksmen in the East when Bradley Beal and JR Smith square off this evening.
Fresh off his first career All-Star appearance, Beal is having his best year as a pro – leading the Wizards in scoring 33 times this season, posting 41 games of 20-plus points, 11 of 30 or more and three 40-plus point outings – including a 51-point outburst in early December against Portland.
The Wine & Gold haven’t been immune to Beal’s breakout season; he’s averaging 31.5 points through the first two contests – including a 36-point effort in the first matchup at Capital One Arena.
JR Smith has been outstanding over the past three weeks – shaking out of a prolonged slump late last month and riding a hot streak into the Break. Swish has done most of his best work early in games – going 17-for-18 from the floor, including a perfect 13-for-13 from beyond the arc in the first quarters of the last five games.
Overall, the 14th-year sharpshooter is averaging 13.2 points over his last 10 games, shooting 51 percent from the floor while going 34-for-68 from long-range – adding 3.6 boards and 1.3 steals to his totals.
Key: Return of the Cedi
Yes, it’s a small sample size, but through his first four games of extended action, it sure looks like Cedi Osman has a bright future in the Association.
The 22-year-old rookie from Macedonia has seen steady minutes over Cleveland’s four-game win streak, and he’s made the most of his opportunity – infusing more youth into what had been a stagnant squad.
After a solid nine-point, four-rebound performance in the Cavs’ overtime win against Minnesota at The Q, Osman posted a pair of double-figure outings after being inserted into the starting lineup – tallying 16 points, five boards, four assists and three steals against Atlanta and following that up with a 12-point, five-rebound effort two days later in Boston.
The young Cedi seemed to run out of gas last week in Oklahoma City, but he’ll be back in the starting lineup for tonight’s meeting with the Wizards – and he’ll have his hands full against Otto Porter Jr.
The fifth-year forward from Georgetown went into the All-Star Break on a nice run of his own – posting 22 points in Washington’s most recent win over the Knicks, averaging 19.3 points on 52 percent shooting over his last eight games.
If Osman wants to continue making his mark with the Wine & Gold, slowing down Washington’s crafty veteran will be a solid start to the second half.