Dec 19, 2012; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden (13) dunks against the Philadelphia 76ers during the fourth quarter at the Toyota Center. The Rockets won 125-103. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

Houston Rockets (19-14) vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (8-26) Preview

Dec. 29, 2012; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers shooting guard Dion Waiters (3) dribbles the ball against the Brooklyn Nets during the first half at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off of a thrilling, at sometimes frustrating, 106-104 win over the Charlotte Bobcats, the Cleveland Cavaliers (8-26) return to Quicken Loans Arena to take on the Houston Rockets (19-14). The Cavaliers will again be without Anderson Varejao and Daniel Gibson, as they both continue to battle their respective injuries. The Rockets also played last night, and mounted a massive comeback to beat the Milwaukee Bucks 105-101 in Milwaukee. According to Yahoo! Sports, the Cavaliers are six-point underdog on their home floor. Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m., and the game will air live on FSN Ohio in the Cleveland area. In Cleveland, the game will also air live on WTAM 1100.

For the Cavaliers, this is a tough, stylistic game – especially without Varejao. Tyler Zeller and Tristan Thompson both played great against the Bobcats, but it remains to be seen if they can keep that level of play up from game to game – especially in the case with Zeller. Plus, Houston’s best player – shooting guard James Harden – plays a position where the Cavaliers top two players (C.J. Miles and Dion Waiters) are average on defense. Putting Alonzo Gee on Harden could solve this, but that would mean putting a shooting guard on the 6-9 Chandler Parsons, who is playing the best basketball of his young NBA career.

On the bright size, expect Irving to dominate the matchup with Houston point guard Jeremy Lin. Lin is a good player with solid ball handing abilities, but he is not the type of point guard that gives Irving fits. Lin is a shooter first, and is not a great pick-and-roll player. Plus, with Harden on the roster as the primary scorer, Lin isn’t counted on to score 20+ points every night. On defense, he’s an average defender. If Kyrie gets in a groove early against Lin, expect that to continue for the entire game, and for Irving to put the Cavaliers on his back.

Also look to see how Waiters looks off the bench in his third game as the Cavaliers new sixth man. He looks more comfortable in a reprisal of the role he played at Syracuse, but his minutes also have been dwindling down the stretch. If he can get hot early, maybe he’ll get a look in the fourth quarter instead of Shaun Livingston. A big game from Waiters on both ends of the floor would greatly help the Cavs pull out a victory.

For the Rockets, their improvements from a bottom feeder to a playoff contender began with the acquisition of the aforementioned Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and picks. Immediately locking down Harden to a five-year, $80-million contract, the Rockets have the star they have been chasing for years. And do not let his subpar Finals performance fool you – Harden is a star in this league. He is as smooth as they come, and has a nice three-point stroke. Harden currently sits fifth in the NBA in scoring with 26.3 points per game, and is also averaging 5.3 assists per game. There was an adjustment period between him and Lin, but the two seem to have figured out how to play together. The Rockets also acquired Omer Asik in the offseason, as the Turkish import will provide a tough test for Zeller at the center position. Overall, the Rockets might be the best scoring team in the NBA, as they currently average 106.1 points per game, which isfirst in all of the Association.

The Cavaliers can win this game, but it’s going to take a top-notch effort to get it done. There cannot be any fourth quarter stumbles or any dumb mistakes in general. Zeller and Thompson (and whomever the third big is) will need to hold their own against Asik and Patrick Peterson on the inside. Miles and Waiters will need to make Harden earn the points that he will surely get and Gee will need to do the same against Parsons. With Varejao, this is a game (especially at home) that the Cavaliers could win, but with him out, it’s going to take a team effort. If it is close down the stretch, maybe “Mr. Fourth Quarter” can bail them out again like he did last night. But remember, the Houston Rockets are not the Charlotte Bobcats in any way, shape or form.

Key Stats

  • Cavaliers points per game – 94.2 per game  – 24th in the NBA
  • Rockets points per game  – 106.1 per game – 1st in the NBA
  • Cavaliers points allowed – 99.4 per game  – 24th in the NBA
  • Rockets points allowed – 103.4 per game – 29th in the NBA
  • Cavaliers leading scorer – Kyrie Irving, 23.1 points per game
  • Rockets leading scorer – James Harden, 26.3 points per game
  • Cavaliers rebounds per game – 42.0 per game – 15th in the NBA
  • Rockets rebounds per game – 43.3 per game – 8th in the NBA
  • Cavaliers X-Factor(s) – Dion Waiters, shooting guard and Tyler Zeller, Center
  • Rockets X-Factor – Omer Asik, Center

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Tags: Cleveland Cavaliers Dion Waiters Houston Rockets James Harden Kyrie Irving Omer Asik

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