Keys to the Game
Five Keys: Cavaliers vs. Rockets
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Key: Rocket Boosters
If the Wine & Gold are looking for a signature home win to turn the corner after a rough month of January, that opportunity is staring them in the face on Saturday night, with the league’s second-best squad – record-wise – rolls into The Q for a nationally-televised tilt.
The Rockets have won eight of ten and sit just 2.5 games behind the Warriors in the West.
The Cavaliers, holding steady in the 3-seed after shaking off the Heat on Wednesday night – winning their third straight home game, even if it wasn’t a thing of beauty.
In the victory, the Cavs shot just 35 percent and gave up 52 points in the paint, but they had enough in the tank to pull it out with some late free throws.
Even with their recent struggles, the Wine & Gold have held the best home record in the league since November 7, going 17-2 over that span.
The Rockets, who dropped an eight-point decision in Cleveland last year but snuck past the Wine & Gold earlier this season in H-Town, comes in having won six of their last seven – including an 11-point win over the Spurs on Thursday night.
As we approach the All-Star Break, the games begin to take on more weight, and tonight’s marquee matchup at The Q promises to be pretty heavy.
Key: The King's Court
Through no fault of his own, LeBron James found himself at the center of some mid-week drama, already having to beat back free agency rumors in mid-January. And, of course, the spotlight will be right back on him for tonight’s nationally-televised matchup against fellow MVP candidate, James Harden, and the Rockets.
The 14-time All-Star is coming off his 28th double-double of the season against his former squad on Wednesday – finishing with a quiet 24 points to go with 11 boards and five assists. On the negative side of the ledger, Numeral 23 committed seven turnovers (although just a single miscue in the final period).
James hasn’t topped the 30-point mark in eight games, dating back to Cleveland’s MLK Day loss to the Warriors, but he’s dropped 30-plus on Houston in each of his last two meetings against them – averaging 31.5 points on 61 percent shooting in those contests. James has topped the 30-point plateau 16 times this year and on 414 occasions in his career – tops among active players.
He’d love to go for three straight against the Rockets – (and 17 and 415) – on Saturday night at The Q.
Key: Fear the Beard
If James hasn’t been scoring the basketball at his normal pace over the past couple weeks, that hasn’t been much of problem for James Harden – who comes into tonight’s contest one game removed from his historic triple-double earlier this week, erupting for 60 points, 11 assists and 10 boards in Houston’s win over Orlando.
The Beard, who’s doubled-up in each of his previous five contests and has at least one block and one steal in each of his last 10, needs just 27 points to top the 15,000- point mark.
If he plays like he has against the Wine & Gold over the past few seasons, he’ll hit his mark – having notched at least 27 points in his last four matchups against Cleveland, averaging 38.0 points over his last three and notching a triple-double in his past two – including a 35-point, 13-assist, 11-rebound showing in Houston’s victory at the Toyota Center in early November.
The Cavs will throw as many looks as possible at Harden, but J.R. Smith will draw the starting assignment. Swish averaged 19.0 points per in a nice two-game stretch last weekend, but he’s cooled off since – combining for 5-of-15 shooting, including 0-fo-6 from long-range over his past two.
Key: Straight to the Point
As if the Rockets weren’t already one of the most explosive squads in the league, adding Chris Paul to the mix has put them into a new strata.
Earlier this season, Paul became the first player in NBA history (since the stat has been tracked) to win his first 15 games with a new team – and the Rockets are already 26-6 this season with the nine-time All-Star in the lineup.
He comes into tonight’s contest ranked 5th in the league in assists – averaging 8.4 apg, two slots below Harden, at 9.1. Paul is still also one of the league’s best defensive point men – ranking 8th in steals despite battling knee issues all year.
Paul – who was still on the mend for the November matchup earlier this year – has posted a double-double in exactly half of his 22 career meetings with Cleveland, but he’s coming off easily his worst – a five-point effort last March at The Q, going 0-of-8 from the floor, including 0-for-5 from deep, with just seven assists.
Isaiah Thomas is coming off one his better defensive efforts as a Cavalier – tallying a season-high four steals (compared to just two turnovers) while holding All-Star guard Goran Dragic to 7-for-17 shooting, including 1-of-5 from beyond the arc.
Key: Bench Trial
With everything swirling around the Wine & Gold, they’ve been able to find season-long stability with their second unit (although that group has also been in total flux so far).
In Wednesday’s win over Miami, it was Channing Frye’s moment – leading all reserves with 16 points, going 6-of-9 from the floor, including 2-of-4 from long-distance. Following Kevin Love’s injury in Tuesday’s contest against Detroit, Frye has been excellent – averaging 18.0 points over his last two, going a combined 12-for-18 from the floor, 6-of-11 from three-point range.
Dwyane Wade returned from a two-game absence to drop 18 points on the Pistons, going 6-of-8 from the floor in the loss, but he slowed down against his old team the following night, netting nine points on 2-of-8 shooting in the win over Miami.
Jeff Green has been quiet over the past three games, but the last time he faced Houston, he went off for 20 of his season-high 27 points in the second quarter. Kyle Korver looks to be awakening from a January funk – having canned multiple threes in each of his last three outings, tallying double-figures in two of them.
The Cavs bench as a whole continues to be one of the league’s best – averaging 41.1 points per, a franchise all-time mark and good for 5th best in the NBA this year.