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Cavaliers exploit handy matchups against Hornets bench

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Four of Charlotte Hornets starters finished positive in plus/minus, yet the Cavaliers made up that difference against the home team’s bench.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Charlotte Hornets Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

It feels like we’ve been here before, doesn’t it?

A LeBron James team beats the HornCats for the 718th straight time (to be more precise, Charlotte is 1-29 in the last 30 matchups). They seemingly escape with a close win, yet in reality you never actually feel like they are in trouble. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is hampered by foul problems and never quite gets the opportunity to give his best effort against James for the full duration of the game.

Could I just stop here and give you some links to articles on past HornCats - Cavaliers/Heat games?

This game even seemed eerily similar to the December 10 square-off at Cleveland. The starters again out-played the Cavs All-Star studded first unit. Kemba Walker toyed with whatever the visitors threw at him in pick-and-roll.

Yet little mistakes here and there prevented the Hornets from properly stopping the Cavs offense for a prolonged period of time. And, most importantly, coach Steve Clifford’s bench squad was killed by LeBron who stayed in the game to start the second and fourth quarters.

That time in Cleveland Clifford stubbornly stuck with his rotations and a Frank Kaminsky and Roy Hibbert combination against James and Richard Jefferson, both of whom were playing the frontcourt positions.

One could say that slotting Kaminsky at center this time around is progress, I guess...

That being said, lineups consisting of Kaminsky and Marco Belinelli gave up 53 points in 19 minutes (it’s almost hard to believe that a defensive rating of 155.5 can exist in such a number of minutes).

The Hornets probably don’t have a shot to win this without Belinelli’s heroics on offense. After watching him for almost a full season one probably takes his jump shots for granted, disregarding the fact that the average jumper by the Italian might be the toughest signature look in the league.

However, the little extra magic by him could make you fall out of your seat. A Marco Belinelli SLAM DUNK probably has to be written in all caps. It was Belinelli’s first slam of the season and thus he has at least repeated his previous career-low of one jam for the year, per Basketball-Reference.

Not sure how to describe the following basket, nor how many players in the league have the wits to make it happen:

If one believes that this game was actually winnable for the Hornets, though, they probably could have used some of MKG’s defense down the stretch. The Cavs targeted uncomfortable switches for the Hornets all game long and none of them were as hurtful as LeBron James running a pick-and-roll with Belinelli’s man as the screener.

Even if you’re a more physical presence than the 6-5 shooting guard, dealing with this scenario is extremely difficult. You do want to show on the pick-and-roll to slow down James a bit, but then again that comes at the expense of leaving one of the quickest triggers in the whole league in Kyle Korver:

The Hornets ultimately settled on just switching any such action, even if “LeBron James isolating against Marco Belinelli” sounds like a phrase from coach Clifford’s deepest nightmares. This is where you could have used Kidd-Gilchrist on the court (and thus Marvin Williams would get on James if the Cavs continued to pursue such switches):

Is it even necessary to get into Kaminsky’s performance? It feels like the shortcomings he displayed last night have been talked about plentiful.

The James-lead Cavs bench units were comfortable at going small against him, spreading the court for some 3-pointers and attacking the unprotected paint. It’s definitely one of the worst fitting scenarios for Frank the Tank to end up in.

Nevertheless, going 0-for-5 from downtown, all on open looks is inexcusable. It also might have been the worst he has looked when unsuccessfully trying to do big man things against smaller opponents.

Richard Jefferson throwing down an alley-oop on him and Kaminsky then following it up with a toothless post-up against LeBron wasn’t pretty either.

Some other observations:

As bad as it might sound, Briante Weber’s addition to the team might be the most interesting thing for the month of March during this blah playoff chase.

Weber’s insistence of going balls to the wall on almost every defensive possession is endearing. He’s good for one nifty cut for a layup every game against backup point guards who aren’t interested in staying extra alert on each possession:

Last night marked the first time his lack of shooting range was properly tested in a Hornets uniform. The point guard — who has appeared in 22 NBA games for 306 minutes — is yet to make his first 3-pointer in the league.

The results were unsurprisingly bad as the Cavs treated him with no respect whatsoever:

Here’s the extent to which Jefferson closed out on an open Briante Weber on the perimeter:

Weber’s -19 in nine minutes of playing time was also a part of the bench’s problems.

There is an interesting player in him, but you also aren’t surprised about his lack of staying power in his previous stops. Here’s to Weber fulfilling his potential with the Charlotte Hornets!