The Cavs limped to victory against the Heat on Wednesday, running out 91-89 winners on the back of 24 points and 11 rebounds from LeBron James, and 16 points off the bench from Channing Frye.
Cleveland now have a record of 30-20, and are in third place in the Eastern Conference standings. They have been dominant at home, winning 19 of 25 games at the Quicken Loans Arena.
They will hope to keep this good form going when they host the Rockets on Saturday. Houston have won three in a row after they beat the Spurs 102-91.
They are now 37-13, comfortably nestled in second place in the west behind the Warriors.
Three keys to the game
Can the Cavs defense hold up? - Cleveland’s defensive issues have been well documented this season; they concede 109.2 points per 100 possessions, less than only Phoenix and Sacramento. Houston’s offense is only marginally behind Golden State’s as the most efficient in the league, and they’ll be looking to post a big score.
Stopping Harden - Last time these two sides met, Harden caused some problems. He had 35 points, 11 rebounds, 13 assists and five steals to lead the Rockets to victory. After dropping 60 on Orlando earlier in the week, his confidence will be sky high, and if he gets going Houston will be hard to stop.
Points in the paint - Neither of these sides defends the paint well. They both concede a little under 48 points in the pain per game, and are both bottom four in the league in this category. Neither scores a lot in that way - they are ranked 18th and 24th in the NBA - but both have players capable of scoring heavily inside and will need to be on guard defensively.
Matchup to watch
Isaiah Thomas vs Chris Paul - Paul and Thomas are both multiple time All-Stars, but are having vastly different seasons. Since missing most of the first half of the season with a hip injury, Thomas has struggled. His 15.4 points per game are coming on just 36.3% shooting, and 25% from beyond the arc. He is also turning the ball over once for every 1.5 turnovers. In contrast, the 32 year-old Paul is still putting up elite numbers. He is averaging 19.1 points, 5.6 rebounds, 8.4 assists and 1.8 steals a night. He is playing significantly better basketball than his opponent in this matchup and is also a far better defender, and if he gets on top of Thomas it could have a big say in the outcome of the game.
Cleveland Cavaliers predicted starting lineup
PG - Isaiah Thomas | SG - JR Smith | SF - LeBron James | PF - Jae Crowder | C - Tristan Thompson
Houston Rockets predicted starting lineup
PG - Chris Paul | SG - James Harden | SF - Trevor Ariza | PF - Ryan Anderson | C - Clint Capela
LeBron’s stats against Houston aren’t as good as against most other teams, but they are still extremely impressive. He averages 25.8 points on 47.4% shooting, 6.7 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 1.2 steals a night against them.
In 16 career games against Cleveland, Harden has put up 23.9 points, 5.2 boards, 5.9 assists and over two steals a game.
Paul’s 15.8 points per game against Cleveland are the least against any side in his career, and he shoots just 40.4% from the floor and 24.1% from the field to get them. He does, however, also contribute 10.3 assists and two steals in these games.
The Cavs have been given a 3.5 point head start by oddsmakers, a tempting advantage given they are playing at home. With Love out and the Cavs generally not playing good basketball though, Houston should be able to get the job done in this game. It will likely be high scoring, and they will cover the 3.5 point line.
This will be a shootout. A high scoring game with plenty of possessions will see Harden and Paul put up big numbers against a defensively subpar lineup, while LeBron will continue to have even more responsibility in the absence of Love.
If Cleveland are to have any chance, Thomas will need to improve his play. He hasn’t looked like an NBA-level player in recent games; he is turning the ball over regularly, not hitting shots, and unable to get to the rim with the explosiveness he demonstrated last year. He will put in a better performance, but it won’t be enough to get the Cavs over the line. Houston will leave Cleveland victorious, running out 120-114 winners.
The game will be broadcast nationally on ABC. Tip-off is at 8:30pm ET.