Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Five Keys: Cavaliers vs. Hornets

by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor

Key: Seeking Seven

Just over a week after dropping the Hornets in Charlotte to wrap up a 3-1 road trip, the Wine & Gold host Steve Clifford’s squad looking to run their win streak to a season-best seven games.

Behind LeBron James’ 23-point fourth quarter, the Cavaliers pulled away from the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night, avenging an early season upset.

After falling to the Cavs back on November 15 (and Bulls two night later) the Hornets have bounced back to win three straight heading into tonight’s contest – including an impressive win over the Timberwolves and an overtime victory over the Wizards on Wednesday night.

Put simply, the Cavaliers have dominated Charlotte over the years – winning 11 of the last 12, including seven straight and a 28-10 mark all-time.

Tyronn Lue’s squad would love to keep their roll going on Friday night; since November 3, the Cavaliers are 8-2 and have topped the 110-point mark in nine of their last 10 – including a 115-point effort in their mid-November win over the Hornets.

Key: Point of Contention

Kemba Walker had a solid 20-point outing against the Cavs back on November 15 and that turned out to be just a warmup for his outburst two nights later – going off for 47 points on 17-for-27 shooting, including 5-of-9 from long-distance.

Walker, coming off his first All-Star appearance in 2017, is Charlotte’s top scorer and assist man and only trails Del Curry as the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. Walker’s had some big games against Cleveland in the past – including a 37-point effort in a loss on Tobacco Road last New Year’s Eve.

With Cleveland’s top two point guards (and Iman Shumpert) still on the shelf, the Wine & Gold will turn to Jose Calderon for his third straight start. The 13-year vet was rock-solid in Cleveland’s blowout win over Detroit on Monday night – outplaying Reggie Jackson to finish with 14 points on 4-fof-5 shooting before coming back down to Earth in Wednesday’s win over Brooklyn.

Calderon didn’t post huge numbers in that victory, but he did play a solid floor game and committed just a single turnover in 20 minutes of action.

Key: Heavy Reign

LeBron James didn’t finish among the top three in MVP voting last season and he seems determined through the first two months of this one to accentuate that oversight.

In Wednesday’s win, Coach Lue put a burr under the King’s saddle when he accused him at halftime of “messing around” in the first half. After taking an inadvertent elbow to the chops from Tyler Zeller, the 13-time All-Star returned with a vengeance – going off for 23 of his 33 points in the final period, running off 18 straight at one point and capping the win with a 30-foot bomb with under a minute to play.

On the night, James was 11-for-17 from the floor, including 4-of-7 from deep, adding six boards and five assists.

In Cleveland’s mid-November win, James tallied 31 points – his fourth straight game of 30-plus against the Hornets, averaging 34.8 points on 58 percent shooting to go with 7.5 boards, 9.5 assists and 1.75 steals per over that stretch. Over the course of his career, Numeral 23 has topped the 30-point plateau 19 times against Charlotte.

On Friday night, he’ll lock horns frequently with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who led the Hornets with 22 points in the last meeting between these two.

Key: Super Matchup

You don’t have to be Dr. James Naismith to realize that Kevin Love isn’t your standard NBA center – but over the past month he’s outplayed some of the game’s top traditional big men.

In the November 15 matchup, Dwight Howard was completely ineffective in 23 minutes of work – finishing with eight points on 3-of-5 shooting to go with five boards and no blocks. In that same game, Love doubled-up with 22 points and a game-high 10 rebounds.

But Howard comes into tonight’s contest on a major tear – averaging 22.3 points and 16.3 boards during Charlotte’s three-game win streak, going off for 25 points, 20 boards and four blocks in the Hornets’ Monday night win over Minnesota.

On Friday, the NBA’s active leader in double-doubles (674) takes on Love (who’s doubled-up 382 times for his career) once again. The four-time All-Star has notched a double-double in three of his last four outings, including that win over Charlotte last Wednesday night.

In his last six meetings with Charlotte, Love is averaging 21.5 points on 52 percent shooting to go with 9.7 boards and 2.2 assists.

Key: Reserve Judgement

Even without the services of Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas, Iman Shumpert and Tristan Thompson, the Cavaliers have had no trouble scoring the ball (ranking 3rd in the Association at 111.4 points per). A huge reason has been their deep bench, which has combined for at least 40 points in each of the last five games – the second time this season they’ll have put together a run like that.

Cleveland has gotten most of its bench production from a trio of savvy veterans: Kyle Korver, Jeff Green and Dwyane Wade.

Korver comes into tonight’s contest as the team’s third-leading scorer and has posted double-digits in nine games, including a 12-point effort in Wednesday’s win.

Green’s also averaging double-digit scoring in his first year in Cleveland, including his 27-point effort against Houston.

And Wade has simply been terrific running Cleveland’s second unit. Over his last five games, the 12-time All-Star is averaging 14.2 points, 6.8 boards, 4.6 assists and 1.6 steals – coming off an 18-point performance against the Nets, going 8-of-13 from the field, adding four rebounds and five dimes in 28 minutes of work off the bench.

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