The Charlotte Hornets (14-9) are in Ohio this evening taking on the Cleveland Cavaliers (16-5) less than 24 hours after the team played the Orlando Magic in North Carolina. A win tonight would make it four straight for the Hornets and push them four games ahead of the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference.
Lucky for the Hornets, no one played more than 28 minutes last night and the game was more or less over by the third quarter. That should bode well for them against the Cavs, whom blew out the Miami Heat last night.
We know what the Cavs are. They’re built around LeBron James — perhaps still the best player in the NBA — and combine a ferocious offensive attack with league-average defense. The Cavs rely heavily on spot-up jumpers and cuts, meaning the Hornets would likely benefit from more cautious help defense. Challenging LeBron, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love to score in isolation might be an effective strategy.
The Hornets are completely healthy, thankfully, and can throw an assortment of defenders at the Cavs’ big three.
I’m just eager to see Michael Kidd-Gilchrist guarding LeBron. MKG held LeBron to 19 points on 38.1 percent shooting earlier this season, and let’s not forget that one of MKG’s few appearances last season was against the Cavs and the Hornets pulled out a win thanks to stellar play from he and Jeremy Lin.
Nicolas Batum is coming off yet another excellent game — he’s averaging 14.2 points, 11.2 rebounds, and seven assists through five games in December — and looks to have a fairly easy night on defense against the Cavs, too, opening him up to facilitate the offense and keep things moving. J.R. Smith missed last night’s game with a knee injury.
The odds are against the Hornets tonight, but they can definitely get a win if a few things go their way. One, make LeBron a scorer. Two, defend the 3-point line. Three, score reasonably well. Not a tall order by any means, but the Hornets’ margin for error is small. They absolutely cannot get off to a slow start against the Cavs.
Tip off is at 7:30 p.m.