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KeyBank Keys to the Game: Cavs at Hornets

THE TRIP FINALE

The Wine & Gold wrap up their longest remaining roadie of the season on Tuesday night, capping at two-game set in Charlotte and looking to take three of four on the trip. 

On Sunday night at the Spectrum Center, the Cavaliers trailed by 16 points late in the third period before rallying back from double-digits down for the 14th time this season, holding off the Hornets (22-48) late for the win. Playing without Jarrett Allen, who suffered an eye injury in Friday’s loss in Miami, the Cavaliers reversed three ugly quarters of play in the fourth, shooting 61 percent from the floor while not committing a single miscue in the period. 

These two squads wrap up the season series in the final game of the campaign on Easter Sunday at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

BACK TO FORM

After struggling with injuries through the first half of the season, Hornets forward Gordon Hayward has played in 21 straight for Charlotte, topping the 20-point mark and six of those contests and netting double-figure scoring in all but four. 

On Sunday night, the 13th-year man from Butler had another solid night – finishing with 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting, adding six assists, four boards and a steal. 

Tuesday night’s game will mark his 26th career meeting against the Wine & Gold. Over that stretch, he’s scored at least 20 on six occasions, including a 39-point performance while still with the Celtics in 2019. 

For much of the night, he’ll be checked by Isaac Okoro, who continues to do much of the dirty work for the league’s top-scoring defense. 

Okoro isn’t expected to carry the load offensively, but he’s been solid on that end through the first three games of the current trip – netting double-figure scoring in each of the two Miami games while shooting 62 percent from the floor and 50 percent from long-range overall on the roadie, averaging 11.5 points per.

MIDDLE MATCHUP

Third-year big man Nick Richards certainly isn’t a household name. But the native Jamaican might be if he played the Cavaliers 82 times a year. 

Averaging a career-best 7.9ppg and 5.9rpg overall this year, Richards has been outstanding in both meetings against Cleveland this year. 

In Charlotte’s double-overtime loss to the Cavaliers back in late November, he doubled-up with 13 points and a game-best 14 boards, going 5-of-10 from the floor, snagging six of his rebounds off the offensive glass and swatting three shots off the bench. On Sunday, Richards was in the starting lineup and was just as effective – finishing with 15 points, again leading both teams with 12 rebounds, adding four assists while recording a game-high three blocks. 

If Jarrett Allen is unable to give it a go again on Tuesday, Evan Mobley will slide back into the starting center spot, where he warmed up late in Sunday night’s victory. 

The standout sophomore from USC saved his best for last – netting 10 of his 18 points in the final period, caning all three shots he attempted in the quarter, grabbing three boards and going 4-of-7 from the stripe to seal the deal.

Mobley was even better in the first meeting this year with Charlotte – finishing with 21 points and leading both teams with 18 rebounds, adding five assists and a pair of blocks in the double-overtime thriller.