Cavaliers-Hornets Preview

The Associated Press

After a strong start to a difficult home stretch, the New Orleans Hornets couldn't meet the challenge in their last two games.

Things aren't likely to be as tough in the finale Sunday night against the injury-plagued Cleveland Cavaliers, who are mired in their worst losing streak of the season.

The Hornets (25-48) lost to Golden State and beat Boston to open this season-high seven-game homestand before facing four straight games against four of the league's top six teams record-wise. That stretch began with victories over Memphis and Denver, which had entered with a 15-game winning streak.

New Orleans, however, couldn't keep its string of upsets going, falling to the Los Angeles Clippers and Miami by a combined 33 points in its last two.

The Southwest Division-worst Hornets appeared to be in the wrong place at the wrong time against the league-best Heat on Friday. After having its 27-game win streak stopped two days earlier, Miami made 60.9 percent from the field and 14 for 27 from 3-point range on the way to a 108-89 victory.

"We could have pressed up in our man defense a little more," said forward Ryan Anderson, who led New Orleans with 20 points. "We could have helped a little bit better."

The Hornets had allowed 85.0 points per game on 41.7 percent shooting over their three-game winning streak before giving up averages of 106.5 points and 53.5 percent in their last two losses.

They appear to have a decent chance at tightening things up against a Cleveland team that has struggled on offense lately without its starting backcourt - and top two scorers.

While Dion Waiters (sore knee) remains sidelined, star point guard Kyrie Irving has been cleared to play in this game. Irving, who had missed the previous eight games with a strained left shoulder, is averaging a team-high 23.0 points despite missing 22 games overall.

Cleveland is going to be cautious with Irving for the final 11 games, and the guard will be inactive for Monday's game versus Atlanta as ''he takes the next steps in his recovery.''

Irving and Waiters combined for 51 points on 19-of-32 shooting in a 105-100 home win over New Orleans on Feb. 20.

The injuries seem to have caught up with the team offensively. Cleveland has averaged 85.7 points on 41.1 percent shooting - including 15 for 55 from 3-point range - in its last three games.

"I can't worry about the guys who aren't playing," coach Byron Scott said. "The biggest thing with us is we need six or seven guys to play really well."

C.J. Miles scored 19 points and Tyler Zeller added 14 and 10 rebounds Friday, but Cleveland dropped its season-high seventh straight with a 97-87 loss to Philadelphia.

It doesn't figure to get any easier for the Cavaliers on Sunday considering they've lost 12 of 13 road contests against West opponents.

The Hornets, however, may be short-handed as well. Point guard Greivis Vasquez, who has missed two of the last three games with an ankle injury, is expected to be a game-time decision.

Brian Roberts started those two games in place of Vasquez and scored 13 points in each, but he had 18 assists in the win over Denver and only five Friday.

The Hornets have won four of five at home in this series.

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