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What to watch for in Cleveland Cavaliers at Charlotte Hornets

Cleveland looks to sweep the back-to-back series in Charlotte.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Charlotte Hornets Brian Westerholt-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Cavaliers, fresh off a comeback victory, will look to sweep the second game of back-to-back series against the Charlotte Hornets. Cleveland erased a 16-point deficit in a furious fourth-quarter rally in the first matchup to pick up a win.

Who: Cleveland Cavaliers (43-27) vs. Charlotte Hornets (22-47)

Where: Spectrum Center — Charlotte, North Carolina

When: 7 p.m. EST

TV: Bally Sports Ohio, Bally Sports Southeast

Spread: Cavs -8.5 (via Draft Kings)

Opposing Blog: At the Hive

Cavs’ Expected Starting Lineup: Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Isaac Okoro, Lamar Stevens, Evan Mobley

Cavs’ Injury Report: Jarrett Allen (OUT - Right Eye Contusion)

Hornets’ Expected Starting Lineup: Terry Rozier, Kelly Oubre, Gordan Hayward, PJ Washington, Nick Richards

Hornets’ Injury report: LaMelo Ball (OUT - ankle), James Bouknight (OUT - G League Assignment), Theo Maledon (OUT - G League Assignment), Cody Martin (OUT - ankle), Mark Williams (OUT - thumb sprain), Kelly Oubre (PROBABLE - Back)

What to watch for

Riding the bench

The Cavs actually got a pretty good performance from the bench last time out, with Caris LeVert and Ricky Rubio sparking a rally to help Cleveland avoid an embarrassing loss. The bench has been a sore spot of late, exposed by playoff teams as a key weakness on a top-heavy roster. A weird game from Donovan Mitchell (aside from the fourth quarter, where he was great), no Jarrett Allen and the revolving door that is small forward would have normally resulted in a bad loss. But the bench held its ground, led byt LeVert and his 15 points and four assists.

One area of potential concern is the backup center spot with Jarrett Allen out again. Robin Lopez got some run in the previous game and it was pretty apparent that the young, fast Hornets were running circles around him. Playing small ball with Lamar Stevens or Dean Wade at the five instead of Lopez would have been a more intriguing option.

Charlotte has a good defense

Yes, you read that correctly. Watching the Hornets can sometimes be tiring work given their record and injuries, but Charlotte has the league’s second-best defense since the All-Star break, per Cleaning The Glass.

To the casual Cavs fan, it may have been shocking to see them struggle against arguably the worst team in the league. But the Hornets have a stout defensive frontcourt led by rookie Mark Williams and backup Nick Richards, the latter of whom gave Evan Mobley fits in the previous game. With that size behind them, the Hornets’ guards can be a little more aggressive. Charlotte’s defense is in the 99th percentile with Dennis Smith Jr. on the floor versus off per Cleaning the Glass. So before writing the Hornets off as a bad team all around, keep in mind that their defense is not only passable but actually pretty good.

Richards looks like a really solid big. Here he is blocking Mobley at the rim, leading to a fast break jam on the other end for P.J. Washington.

If there is a blowout...

On paper, the Cavs should be able to take care of business against the Hornets in a convincing fashion. If that is the case, then Cleveland should take advantage of the (hopeful) lead and evaluate some other players. Dylan Windler and Danny Green, particularly, are still intriguing as shooting options. They may not be viable defensively, but the bench lacks shooting in a bad way and those two could be viable options in short bursts. Green is a little old, but why sign him on the buyout market if he is going to get zero court time?

An off-the-wall option to look at (at some point) is Mamadi Diakite, who might be a better center option off the bench than Lopez. Diakite is averaging 20 points, nine rebounds, and two assists for the Cleveland Charge. Plus, he has actual athleticism!