1. When these two teams previously met, Houston controlled the pace for almost all 48 minutes. Is there a way the Cavaliers can take control of the game’s tempo?
Marlowe Alter, Right Down Euclid Staff Writer: The only way Cleveland can slow the game down is if they can force Houston to miss shots. The Rockets play at the eighth fastest pace in the league and are fifth in offensive efficiency, opting to run and spread the floor with shooters. They scored 129 points against Minnesota on Thursday without Dwight Howard and whether he plays or not, I don’t see the Cavs keeping the Rockets from doing whatever they want offensively.
Chris Manning, Right Down Euclid EIC: To be blunt and too the point, no. Without Kyrie Irving on the floor and other key players knicked up, the Cavaliers find themselves at a disadvantage at every position on the floor. Houston has a point guard who can dictate the offense (Jeremy Lin), a dominant center in the middle (Dwight Howard) and a silky smooth shooting guard (James Harden). They also move the ball well and, once they got rolling the last time these teams met, the game was fully in Houston’s control. Expect more of the same this time around.
Michael Ma, SpaceCityScoop.com EIC: Without Kyrie Irving available, it’ll be hard to see the Cavs dictate the tempo unless they can establish some sort of inside game. Spencer Hawes has historically played fairly well against the Rockets, and with Dwight Howard possibly missing his 3rd straight game, the Cavs won’t have to worry too much about defending a low post presence as Omer Asik is in no way an offensive threat. I’ll also be eager to see how Dion Waiters plays being the primary target, as I’m sure we’ve all heard the reports of his dissatisfaction of not getting the opportunity to become a star in this league.
2. Tristan Thompson was abused by Terrance Jones when these two teams last met. What kind of adjustments can Thompson make to have a better game this time around?
MA: I watched all of Jones’ eight made field goals from the first matchup and most of his damage was done diving to the hoop to receive drop-off passes off the pick-and-roll. Using his strength advantage to get to his spot, he made two shots on Thompson one-on-one with both fairly well contested. Jones takes nearly 73 percent of his shots from within a few feet of the rim. The responsibility ultimately falls on the Cavaliers’ help defense and communication. The Rockets aren’t running many plays for Jones but he is able to slip to the rim for easy layups and dunks off guard penetration, which is why he shoots 61.5 percent at the tin. Thompson is going to have to do a great job containing the pick-and roll along with Jarrett Jack and Dion Waiters, an unpromising task.
CM: Over the course of this season, Thompson has struggled against athletic forwards – even if they are raw like Jones. When these teams met before, Thompson failed to get into a rhythm and was outplayed in every aspect of the game. If he is going to make any adjustments, Thompson needs to do the little things right. He’s playing his worst basketball of the season and must get back to the fundamentals. He should look to box out Jones and stay in front of him on defense. Potentially, Thompson could be the Cavalier with the best chance of winning his matchup, but to do that he’ll have to keep it simple.
MM: While Jones has overachieved this season, he is still fairly inconsistent and a little raw finesse-wise. He’s also at best an average defender. Thompson has been solid this season, although he’s been struggling recently, averaging a near double-double with 11.7 points and 9.2 rebounds. His biggest thing in this matchup is to keep Jones off the offensive boards and not give up on a play on the offensive side, as Jones really likes to go for blocks from penetrating guards.
3. Houston is 10th in the NBA in defensive efficiency despite starting some below average defenders (looking at you, James Harden) and giving up 101.7 points per game. What makes this Houston defensive better than the stats indicate?
MA: Houston plays at a face pace so naturally they give up points because there are more possessions for each team. However, the Rockets have plenty of talented individual and team defenders which explains its success on that end. Dwight Howard and Omer Asik are the premier defensive centers so they are able to clean up a lot of mistakes from teammates (Ahem, Harden). Patrick Beverley is a nuisance at the point guard position, wreaking havoc on opposing point guards and Jones, though undersized, has become a solid defender at the four. Head coach Kevin McHale and the coaching staff deserve credit for having this team play hard on both ends instead of relying solely upon its highly touted offense. Defense does win championships and the Rockets are more than adequate on that end.
CM: From what I’ve seen so far this year, Houston plays overall sound defense. They’ve somewhat cleaned up their high turnover rate from earlier in the season and they have become less of a sieve as a result. They also rotate well on the outside and, if I remember correctly, the Rockets are sneaky in defending the paint. Their whole system is designed to help maximize their version the space and pace, and while their defense is not elite, it’s better than how it looks on the court.
MM: That number is severely flawed due to the pace the Rockets play at. The Rockets average 98.1 possessions per game which ranks them 8th in the NBA. As bad of a defender Harden has been, he’s made strides on that end of the floor, and the Rockets have also done a good job in hiding him defensively at times by having him defend power forwards. In some matchups, he doesn’t have the lateral quickness to stick with guards, but he’s strong enough, and has been efficient guarding post players. The defense starts with Patrick Beverley, a classic junk-yard dog player who continuously harasses the other team’s best perimeter player. It ends with rim protectors in Howard or Asik. Beverley’s presence cannot be overlooked on defense, as his intensity, attitude, and toughness has led them to change their makeup on that end.