Key: Houston, You Are a Problem
The Wine & Gold are at least hitting the toughest part of their schedule with momentum – nearly knocking off LeBron and the Lakers on Wednesday night at The Q and turning in their best performance of the young season on Friday night in Philly.
The sledding continues to get tougher, however, as the Cavaliers welcome a team they’ve struggled against in any era – the Houston Rockets.
In Cleveland’s, 121-112, victory – their sixth in the last seven stops at the Wells-Fargo Center – the squad came out ready to scrap, getting off to a strong start in the first quarter and keeping the heat on Philly through the next three – pulling away late to snap the Sixers win streak at four.
The Rockets have rebounded from their rough start and had rattled off five straight wins before falling in overtime on Friday night in Detroit despite big efforts from James Harden and Clint Capela.
Last season, the Rockets took two from the Cavaliers and have won 10 of the last 12 overall.
Larry Drew’s squad should come into the contest with some renewed confidence, but it’ll take more than that to take down the Beard and Co. on Saturday night.
Key: Fear the Beard
The Cavaliers weathered Philly’s star-studded starting lineup on Friday night, and they’ll have to contend with some serious heavyweights again on Saturday, namely the league’s reigning MVP and currently its top scorer.
In his 10th season out of Arizona State, the Beard is right back to his old tricks this season – topping the 20-point plateau in all but two contests, topping 30 points six times with a pair of 40-point outbursts in the mix.
Harden’s been even better of late – averaging 36.7 points and 8.7 assists per over his last three games, combining for 76 points in the Rockets’ recent home-and-home matchups against Detroit. But even with his big output on Friday night, Harden was just 9-of-27 from the floor, including 3-of-11 from long-range, and failed to score in overtime.
The Cavaliers will likely use Rodney Hood – who’s coming off one of his best games of the season – to try to slow Harden down.
On Friday night in Philadelphia, Hood was locked in from long-range – leading Cleveland with 25 points on 10-of-20 shooting, including 5-of-7 from beyond the arc. Hood has notched double-figures in all but three games this year, turning in his third 20-plus-point night of the season in Friday’s clutch win over the Sixers.
In his last meeting against Houston, while still a member of the Jazz, Hood went for 26 points on 10-for-18 from the floor, drilling five triples to go with four assists and a pair of steals.
Key: The Bull is Loose
Collin Sexton has been given an education by some of the Association’s veteran point guards so far this season – but he’s been on the teaching end for more than his share of it.
Sexton will get his first up-close-and-personal look at a future Hall of Famer on Saturday night – taking on one of the best in the business in Chris Paul.
The nine-time All-Star comes into tonight’s contest having topped the 20-point mark in five of his last six games – and when he does that, the Rockets are tough to stop, going 6-1 in games this year when he reaches that mark, 23-2 in such contests last year.
CP3 is just as deadly on the defensive end, and the Young Bull will have to protect the ball again on Saturday night. He’s done an exceptional job of not turning the ball over all season long and has been even better of late – combining for just two turnovers in his last three outings.
On Friday night, the Atlanta native finished with 23 points on 10-of-18 shooting, adding five boards, three assists, a steal and a block in 32 minutes of action.
Since being inserted into the starting lineup, Sexton has shown no sign of rookie jitters – averaging 18.3 points on 48 percent shooting, including 60 percent from long-range and 83 percent from the stripe over that seven-game stretch.
Key: Chairman of the Boards
Now in his fifth season, international big man Clint Capela has improved year-by-year and he’s now one of the better pure centers in the West.
Currently, Capela is the Rockets’ third-leading scorer and their leading rebounder and shot-blocker. And last night in Detroit, Capela – who averaged 2.7 ppg as a rookie – became the first Rocket since Hakeem Olajuwon to post a 20-point, 20-rebound game, going off for 29 points and 21 boards in the overtime loss.
Over Houston’s recent five-game win streak, the 25th overall pick of the 2014 Draft shot 74 percent from the floor while averaging 20.4 points, 11.4 boards and 2.0 blocks per contest.
He had to deal with Andre Drummond over the past two games and he’ll draw Tristan Thompson on Saturday night.
The Wine & Gold’s blue collar big has been outstanding since the calendar turned to November – notching double-doubles in six of his last eight games, including an 18-point, 13-rebound performance on Friday in Philly.
Tristan’s effort is part of the reason Cleveland dominated the Sixers on the boards (42-31) and on the offensive glass (14-4) and a big factor in the Cavaliers topping 12 opponents in the rebounding category so far this season.
Key: Late Bloomers
It took Jordan Clarkson a little while to get his motor started in the City of Brotherly Love, but once he got going, there was no putting the genie back in the bottle – netting 14 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter while blowing kisses to some typical Philly fans as he did so.
Clarkson has now notched double-figures in 16 of the Wine & Gold’s first 17 outings and currently ranks fifth among all NBA reserves, averaging 15.9 points per.
Overall, Cleveland’s second unit – which didn’t score a single point until Larry Nance Jr.’s dunk with under a minute to play in the third quarter – scored all 28 of its points after intermission. Even with that late effort, Clarkson was able to outscore Philly’s weak bench by himself – 19-17.
But Clarkson wasn’t the only reserve to do well in the victory. Nance did a little bit of everything – finishing with four points, three boards, three assists and a game-high three steals – while Andrew Harrison, in just his seventh game as a Cavalier had a rock-solid night – finishing with five points, five boards and a steal in 17 minutes in relief of Collin Sexton.
Harrison’s numbers aren’t going to send him to the All-Star Game any time soon, but he’s been efficient off the bench for Cleveland, playing a solid floor game, hitting his free throws and, like Sexton, protecting the basketball. In Harrison’s last six outings, he’s committed just five turnovers.