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Five Keys: Cavaliers at Hornets

Key: Feeling the Buzz

After going 1-2 on their recent mini-homestand, the Cavaliers hit the road for a pair – beginning with a Saturday night showdown in Charlotte.

The Wine & Gold have dominated the Hornets in the recent past, winning nine straight contests as part of a 13-1 mark over the past four years. But things are slightly different than they’ve been over that span and we’ll see how the new-look Cavs match up tonight on Tobacco Road.

The Cavaliers got off the schneid on Tuesday night against Atlanta, earning acting head coach Larry Drew (and the team) the first victory of the season, but after a competitive first quarter, the Cavs took one on the chin against Denver on Thursday. After holding the red-hot Nuggets to just 15 points in the first period, Cleveland gave up 95 more the rest of the way, falling behind by double-digits early in the third quarter as Denver pulled away late for the win.

The Hornets are halfway through a four-game homestand after splitting the first two contests. On Thursday night, Charlotte dropped a 111-107 heartbreaker to the Thunder, blowing a 19-point second-half lead and falling below .500 for the season.

Key: Containing Kemba

Even with Blake Griffin’s early-season 50-point performance, there hasn’t been a more dynamic scorer in the Eastern Conference than Kemba Walker. Even with back-to-back subpar performances – netting 19 points against Miami and 21 more against OKC – Walker still leads the East at 29.1 ppg.

Late last season, in a game against Cleveland, Walker became the Hornets’ all-time leading scorer. And he’s actually taken his game up a notch this year, dropping 41 points on Milwaukee in the season opener, 39 two nights later against Miami and barely slowing down from there.

In 23 career contests against the Wine & Gold, Walker has tallied double-figures in 20 of them – including a 37-point outburst here at the Spectrum Center.

Walker also has a new backup this year – future Hall of Famer, Tony Parker. And for anyone who thought the 18-year vet was being sent out to pasture in Charlotte, the former Spur has responded by averaging 19.7 points off the bench over his past three games, including a 24-point, 11-assist effort in a win over Miami earlier this week.

Key: Reserve Judgment

Tony Parker is just one of the reserves that Cleveland will have to watch out for on Saturday night. The Hornets also have a pair of high-flying youngsters that have excelled off the bench so far this season.

Malik Monk, the 11th overall pick from a season ago, looks poised to have a breakout season, tallying double-figures off the bench in seven of his first nine outings – including a pair of 20-plus-point performances in Charlotte’s last two games.

The Hornets’ top pick from this past June – Miles Bridges – has been very good as well, netting double-figures in three games, including a 15-point, eight-rebound effort against Orlando in just his second game as a pro.

The Cavaliers second unit has been very good almost all season – having posted at least 40 points in seven straight games, including a 44-point effort on Thursday night against Denver. Currently, Cleveland’s bench collective is averaging 47.6 points per, good for third in the NBA.

Leading the Cavaliers charge is Jordan Clarkson, the squad’s leading scorer at 16.1 ppg. Clarkson has tallied double-figures in every game this season and ranks fourth among all reserves this season in scoring.

Key: Standing Guard

As good as the Hornets 1-2 punch at the point has been this season, the Cavaliers boast a pretty decent duo in their own right.

George Hill has been rock-solid over his past four games – averaging 14.0 points per on 57 percent shooting from the floor, including 63 percent from long-range and a perfect 9-of-9 mark at the stripe.

Following his 12-point performance in Thursday’s loss to Denver, rookie Collin Sexton has now scored in double-figures in five straight outings – averaging 13.8 points, 2.8 boards and 3.0 assists over that stretch.

Through the first eight games, Sexton leads all rookies from the stripe, shooting at a .909 clip on the season.

Overall, the Wine & Gold have been excellent from the line this year – shooting .822, good for fifth-best in the league, tops in the Eastern Conference.

On Thursday night, the Cavs went 18-of-19 (.947) from the stripe, their fifth game this season shooting better than 86 percent.

Key: Middle Management

Cody Zeller might not be one of the more dynamic big men in the Conference, but the Hornets seem to go as Zeller goes – posting a winning percentage 130 points higher with him in the lineup over the past two seasons.

The Hornets acquired Bismack Biyombo from Orlando in the offseason, but he hasn’t been able to displace Zeller, the fourth overall pick of the 2013 Draft. Before posting just five points in Charlotte’s recent loss to OKC, Zeller had posted double-figures in five of his previous six outings.

Biyombo, on the other hand, has barely cracked the rotation for Charlotte and hasn’t scored more than four points or grabbed more than six boards all season – picking up five DNPs along the way.

The Cavs middle men have been inconsistent this season, but have showed flashes along the way. Tristan Thompson is averaging a double-double over his past two games – 10.5 points, 10.0 rebounds – but hasn’t found his rhythm on a nightly basis.

Larry Nance Jr. came off the bench to double-up against Indiana one week ago, but has struggled since, going 6-of-16 from the floor and grabbing just four combined boards over the past two contests.

The Cavaliers will need their two-headed big man combo to find its mojo if they hope to start their two-game roadie off with a win.

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