Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

Five Keys: Cavaliers at Hornets

David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor

Key: Roadie Wrap-Up

The Wine & Gold were in a solid rhythm heading into the final two weeks of the season – then Miami happened. But in the NBA, redemption is always a day away, and the Cavaliers can get right back into a groove on Wednesday night. But they’ll have to take on a hot Hornets squad to do so.

On Tuesday night, the Heat snapped Cleveland’s five-game win streak while simultaneously extending the Cavaliers’ long struggle in South Beach – extending their skein to 14 games, dating back to late-January 2010.

The loss marked Cleveland’s lowest scoring total of the season and costed them the services of Kevin Love – who suffered a loose tooth early in the contest and was re-evaluated for a concussion at halftime. He’ll be out on Wednesday night and will enter the NBA’s concussion protocol.

The Hornets – who’ve won four straight, including a recent overtime win over the Knicks – still have a very slim chance to reach the postseason, but those chances took a hit with Miami’s win in South Beach last night.

The Cavaliers have taken the first two contests against the Hornets this season – and eight straight overall and five of the last six here on Tobacco Road – looking to sweep them for the third time in the last four years.

Key: Bug Zapper

Whether he just has a soft spot for his old team or Pat Riley has kryptonite hidden somewhere in AmericanAirlines Arena, the one place that seems to have LeBron James’ number is Miami – and the Heat snapped the four-time MVP’s string of superhuman performances on Tuesday night – holding LeBron to just 18 points on 7-for-18 shooting from the floor, adding six boards and a game-high seven assists. James also committed six miscues with two of those 18 attempts being rejected by Dwyane Wade.

All that might not be good news for the Hornets, who James has tormented throughout his career, as well as in both victories this year.

In his last visit to the Spectrum Center, Numeral 23 finished with 31 points, six boards, eight helpers, a pair of steals and a block. In Cleveland’s late-November win at The Q, James also notched a triple-double with 27 points, 16 rebounds and 13 assists.

He had had 19 30-point performances against Charlotte over the course of his career – second only to Michael Jordan’s 20.

Speaking of His Airness, LeBron (865) has a chance to tie Jordan (866) for the most consecutive regular season games with at least 10 points – a string that dates back to January 6, 2007.

Key: Middle Management

Only three players in the last 20 years have posted a 30-point, 30-rebound game. One played for the Cavaliers. One plays for the Cavaliers. And one will take on the Cavaliers on Wednesday night.

Two games ago in a win over Brooklyn, 33-year-old Dwight Howard registered a 32-point, 30-rebound performance – going 10-for-17 from the floor and 12-for-21 from the stripe. The potential Hall of Famer has had an outstanding season with Steve Clifford’s squad, averaging 16.7 points and 12.4 rebounds in his first season with the Hornets.

In Charlotte’s Monday night win over the Knicks, Howard notched his 45th double-double of the season and his seventh game this year of at least 20 rebounds – going for 17 points and 23 boards in the high-scoring OT victory.

But the 14-year vet from Atlanta hasn’t done much against the Cavaliers this season, averaging 14.0 points and 9.0 rebounds in a pair of pedestrian performances for the eight-time All-Star.

With Kevin Love out for tonight’s contest, Larry Nance Jr. will likely draw that assignment.

Nance has had a pair of frustrating performances following Friday’s double-double against Phoenix. He grabbed 10 boards off the bench in Tuesday’s loss in Miami, but struggled again offensively, going just 3-for-10 from the floor over the last two games.

Tristan Thompson will also need to bring his A-game on Wednesday night, but he’s been good on the boards over his last three games – averaging 11.0 rpg, including a 13-board showing last night in South Beach.

Key: Point of Contention

If Cleveland’s big men expect a challenging night at the office on Wednesday, that goes double for their point guards, who’ll have to deal with the red-hot Kemba Walker.

The two-time All-Star from UConn has been outstanding all season, but he comes into tonight’s contest on a tear – having scored 31 points in Charlotte’s recent win over the Knicks and a jaw-dropping 46 points in 27 minutes of work in the Hornets’ epic blowout of the Grizzlies last Tuesday night.

Already the franchise’s all-time leading three-point shooter and second-leading scorer, Walker has notched 14 games this season of at least 30 points – including five contests topping the 40-point plateau.

But as they have against Dwight Howard, the Wine and Gold have managed to contain Charlotte’s star guard – holding him to 17.5 points per on 34 percent shooting from the floor and 25 percent from long-range in two games so far this season.

On Tuesday night in Miami, the Cavaliers continued starting both point guards in Jose Calderon and George Hill. Calderon showed some serious grit in the loss and was the only other starter besides LeBron to notch double-figures – finishing with 11 points on 4-for-8 shooting.

Hill, who came into the contest shooting 70 percent from the floor and 67 percent from long-range in his previous three outings, struggled against the Heat – notching just four points on 2-for-6 shooting.

As much as the Cavs will need more offensive input from the two veterans, they’ll earn their paycheck on the defensive end Wednesday, trying to slow down one of the most electric point men in the Conference.

Key: Battle of the Benches

Cleveland’s second unit this season will go down as the franchise’s best – averaging 41.5 points per contest, good for sixth in the NBA. Both before and after the Deadline deal, the bench has been one of the Cavaliers’ strong suits all season.

The Wine & Gold were relieved to get Rodney Hood back in the lineup, and he’s been very good through the first two games of the trip, averaging 15.5 points on 48 percent shooting. He was one of two reserves to net double-figures in Tuesday’s loss in South Beach – finishing with 15 points on 6-for-13 shooting.

The other, naturally, was Jordan Clarkson, who’s done so in 16 of the 20 games he’s played as a Cavalier – chipping in with 11 points on 5-of-13 shooting.

Tristan Thompson hasn’t done much on the offensive end since returning from an ankle injury last Friday night – averaging 4.7 points in those three games – but he’s been outstanding on the glass, snagging double-digit boards in each contest.

Two of Charlotte’s top five scorers – Frank Kaminsky and Jeremy Lamb – routinely come off the bench for Charlotte, and impressive rookie Malik Monk has been on a strong late-season run of his own, notching double-figures in four of his last six outings as a reserve.

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