The regular season is rapidly coming to a close as the Cleveland Cavaliers begin another mini-series on the road, this time against the Charlotte Hornets. With just 13 games remaining on the schedule, this is another prime opportunity for Cleveland to solidify their position in the standings.
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers (42-27) vs. Charlotte Hornets (22-46)
Where: Spectrum Center — Charlotte, North Carolina
When: 5 p.m. EST
TV: Bally Sports Ohio
Spread: Cavs -8.5 (via Draft Kings)
Opposing Blog: At the Hive
Cavs’ expected starting lineup: Caris LeVert, Donovan Mitchell, Isaac Okoro, Lamar Stevens, Evan Mobley
Cavs’ injury report: Darius Garland (QUESTIONABLE - quad), Jarrett Allen (DOUBTFUL - eye)
Hornets’ expected starting lineup: Terry Rozier, Kelly Oubre, Gordan Hayward, PJ Washington, Nick Richards
Hornets’ injury report: LaMelo Ball (OUT - ankle), James Bouknight (DOUBTFUL - ankle), Cody Martin (OUT - ankle), Mark Williams (DOUBTFUL - thumb sprain)
What to watch for
Injuries, injuries, injuries
This time of the year, every team is just hoping to stay healthy. The Cavaliers haven’t had much luck with this recently, with Jarrett Allen and Darius Garland both getting injured in their battle with the Miami Heat.
Garland suffered a quad contusion while fighting over a Bam Adabeyo screen during the Cavs' first game against Miami. In the second game, Allen was hit in the ye by Adabeyo on a rebound attempt, resulting in an eye contusion. A rough week for injury concerns.
The Hornets haven’t been so lucky either. While their season was already doomed for the lottery, a season-ending ankle injury to LaMelo Ball sealed their fate. Any chance to build momentum heading into the offseason and continue Ball’s development has been snuffed out by this injury.
More pertinent, these injuries hold us back from seeing these two teams at full strength against each other. We won’t see Ball or Allen and it’s unlikely Garland plays in the first matchup, though it’s possible he returns for the rematch on Tuesday.
Evan Mobley thrown into the fire
There is not much more the Cavaliers can put on Evan Mobley’s plate at this point. Now that Allen is sidelined and Garland is missing for at least another game, Mobley will have to step up on both ends of the floor.
All indicators point toward Mobley taking this in stride. He’s been on a roll since the start of 2023, averaging 17.6 points and 9.0 rebounds since January. Back when Allen missed five games in November, Mobley increased his rebounding output to 11.8 per game and kept Cleveland in first place defensively.
Nevertheless, Mobley is about to be tested all over again. The Cavs will need him to continue playing at a high level if they are going to survive this homestretch of the season without Allen. Securing homecourt advantage in the first round might rest on the 21-year-old’s shoulders.
Donovan Mitchell, the hero
Thankfully, this doomsday scenario is precisely why the Cavs traded for Donovan Mitchell. A slew of injuries at this point in the season tanked them all the way to the play-in tournament last year. This time around? Mitchell is here to save the day.
The team relies on Garland to initiate the offense and keep things running smoothly. Without him, Cleveland plays a more heliocentric game focused on Mitchell’s scoring ability. The Cavs are 8-1 in these games, with Mitchell going nuclear for 34.4 points and 7.2 assists per game in Garland’s absence. He has the ultimate green light in these games, shooting 48% on nearly 24 shot attempts a night.
A little heavy lifting is parred for the course. Mitchell is having his best statistical season, averaging career-highs in points and efficiency. He’s the face of the franchise and they have bet their money on him to carry them through the storm. Mitchell poured in 42 points in his last outing and will be expected to have another big night entering Charlotte.