Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Five Keys: Cavaliers at Hornets

Kent Smith/NBAE/Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor

Key: Rounding Third, Headed Home

Fresh off probably the most entertaining game of the season, the Wine & Gold would love to wrap up the four-game trip on a strong note when they roll into Charlotte for a Wednesday night matchup with the Hornets.

On Monday night at Madison Square Garden, the Cavaliers erased a 23-point second-half lead, blowing past the Knicks in the fourth quarter for the dramatic 104-101 win – their second straight to reach the .500 mark.

On Wednesday night, Cleveland hopes to continue its mastery over the Hornets – a squad they swept in four games last year, have beaten six straight times and 10 of the last 11. Charlotte got off to a 5-3 start and was riding a three-game win streak before a disastrous road trip, dropping all four contests – including a tough three-point loss to the Celtics last Friday night.

The Hornets are well-rested, geared up for a national TV game and will get do-it-all swingman Nicolas Batum back for tonight. But the Cavaliers look like they’re starting to find their rhythm and would love to head home with a 3-1 mark.

Key: Bug Zapper

LeBron James is coming off another big performance against New York – nearly dropping a triple-double on the Knicks after a mild first-half tussle with Enes Kanter. On the night, James finished with 23 points, a game-high 12 assists, nine boards and three blocks – deflating The Garden crowd in the fourth quarter – scoring or assisting on 30 of 32 points during a span in the period.

As the trip rolls on, it’s probably a shorter list to name the teams LeBron James hasn’t had big success against, but either way, Charlotte wouldn’t be on it.

The King has had some major moments against the Hornets over the year – including his career-high 61-point outburst against Charlotte while still a member of the Heat back in March 2014. In four meetings with the Hornets last year, James topped the 30-point mark in three of them, averaging 31.8 points on 55 percent shooting – 44 percent from long-range – to go with 8.0 boards, 9.5 assists and 1.5 steals.

Over the years, James has posted 18 career 30-point games against Charlotte and looks for his 40th win (against just six losses) on Wednesday night.

Key: Guard Duty

After taking the collar on a nine-day, four game trip, the Hornets needed some good news as they prepare to face the three-time Eastern Conference Champs – and they got it as Nicolas Batum returns to the lineup on Wednesday night after missing the first 12 games of the season with a sprained left elbow.

Batum, who’s stung the Cavaliers in the past, albeit as a member of the Blazers, gives Charlotte the versatility and play-making they’ve been missing so far. Batum led the Hornets with 15 double-doubles last season and he’ll help a team that comes into tonight’s contest last in the league in assists.

Batum will join All-Star point guard, Kemba Walker – Charlotte’s top scorer and assist man. The former UConn star has topped the 20-point mark in eight of Charlotte’s first 12 games, including a 20-point, 11-assist outing in the squad’s recent loss in Boston.

And despite his team’s struggles against the Wine & Gold last season, Walker had no such problem – averaging 27.5 points on 53 percent shooting in four contests.

J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert – getting his fourth straight start at the point – will be tasked with trying to slow down Charlotte’s dangerous backcourt.

Key: Go Fourth and Prosper

If the Hornets manage to slow down Kyle Korver through the first three quarters of tonight’s matchup, that definitely doesn’t mean they’re out of the woods.

Korver has taken the reigns of the moniker “Mr. Fourth Quarter” in Cleveland’s two most recent wins – combining for 32 points in the final period of wins over Dallas and New York. In Cleveland’s comeback against the Knicks, the 15th-year pro notched 19 of his 21 points in the fourth – finishing 5-of-8 from long-range in the period and 5-of-12 overall.

In the fourth quarter this season, Korver’s tallied 79 points on .610 (25-for-41) shooting, including .583 (21-of-36) from deep.

But Korver wasn’t Cleveland’s only bright spot off the bench in Monday’s win. Dwyane Wade bounced back from a slow start to play a brilliant second-half floor game – finishing with 15 points on 7-for-15 shooting, adding eight boards, three assists, a pair of steals and a blocked shot.

Channing Frye also got a nice run on Monday night – finishing with nine points, canning three threes and adding five boards in the win.

The Hornets main reserve is Frank Kaminski – the squad’s fourth-leading scorer – who’s coming off a 14-point performance against Boston.

Key: Middle Men

In his 13th season, Dwight Howard has had somewhat of a rebirth in Charlotte. Howard is one of the best big men of his era and one of just six players in league history to average a point-rebound double-double in each of his first 13 seasons and he’s the active NBA leader in double-doubles, posting 672 for his career, including 53 last season, good for 6th in the NBA.

This year, the eight-time All-Star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year is averaging 14.4 points and 13.1 boards. He got off to a solid start on the team’s recent road trip before closing out with a six-point, 11-rebound effort against Boston, going just 2-of-8 from the floor.

In terms of double-doubles, the Wine & Gold also have one of the best in the business in Kevin Love. The four-time All-Star struggled with just six points and six boards in Cleveland’s recent win over the Knicks, following his 29-point, 15-rebound outing on Saturday night in Dallas.

Love was rock-solid against Charlotte last year – posting three double-doubles, averaging 20.5 points on 50 percent shooting, adding 9.8 boards and a steal in Cleveland’s four-game season sweep.

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