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Preview: Hornets hit the road to finish up season series with Cavaliers

Let’s leave all of that bad energy in February.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

What: Charlotte Hornets (30-33) at Cleveland Cavaliers (36-25)

When: 7:00 p.m. EST

Where: Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse; Cleveland, Oh.

How to watch: Bally Sports Southeast, NBA League Pass

Injury report

CHA: James Bouknight: out (neck soreness), Gordon Hayward: out (left ankle), Jalen McDaniels: doubtful (left ankle sprain), Nick Richards: doubtful (right foot soreness).

CLE: Darius Garland: out (back soreness), Caris LeVert: out (right foot soreness), Rajon Rondo: out (right toe sprain), Collin Sexton: out (left meniscus tear), Dylan Windler: out (G League assignment).

The Charlotte Hornets and Cleveland Cavaliers meet for the fourth and final time this season as both teams look to right the ship.

The Hornets, 2-11 in the last 13 games, are down worse than the Cavs are at this point, but Cleveland has taken a step back in recent weeks as well. They’re 1-4 in the last five games dating back prior to the All-Star break, giving up more than 120 points two times after not allowing a single team to reach that mark since Dec. 31. Defensively, they’ve fallen from fourth in the NBA on the season to 22nd in the last five and the offense hasn’t been able to step up with Darius Garland sidelined since the break ended.

Evan Mobley has done everything he can to cement himself as the Rookie of the Year; his per-game statistical outputs are among the rookie leaders in nearly every category and he’s a catalyst on a successful young team that hangs its hat on stingy defense. The ability to guard multiple positions while remaining a formidable rim protector determines how effective an NBA big can be on the defensive end in 2022. Cleveland has two bigs that do those things at a borderline elite level.

With how well the Hornets have been defending lately — they’re 12th in defense across the 2-11 stretch — it shouldn’t be too difficult to limit Cleveland’s offense sans Garland, LeVert and Rondo. Two-Way player Brandon Goodwin started at point guard alongside Isaac Okoro in the Feb. 28 matchup with Minnesota and he should start again tonight. Cedi Osman has assumed more playmaking responsibility with the second unit, and Tim Frazier could get some run as backup point guard while on a 10-day contract. Charlotte’s backcourt outmatches Cleveland’s even more than their frontcourt outmatches Charlotte’s.

Speaking of 10-day contracts... Isaiah Thomas’ 10-day with the Hornets became official this morning and he’s available to play tonight, per The Charlotte Observer’s Rod Boone. The veteran guard has lit up the G League for parts of this season with the Grand Rapids Gold; he seems to have found his shooting stroke (40.7 percent 3P) after a few down years following a serious hip injury with Boston.

Regardless of grander issues in the frontcourt, Charlotte’s issues right now are scoring production and playmaking outside of LaMelo Ball. Thomas is only on a 10-day, contracts designed to give teams quick, immediate help. No big on the 10-day market is sniffing the floor with Montrezl Harrell, Mason Plumlee, PJ Washington and three prospects on the roster. However, Thomas can provide the ball-handling, playmaking and shooting that the Hornets blatantly lack with Ish Smith gone and Bouknight, Hayward and McDaniels injured. The Hornets needed this. Hopefully, “The Little Guy” (rest in paradise, Tommy Heinsohn) can don the purple and teal sooner than later.