Top-three seeds in their respective NBA conferences, the 30-20 Cleveland Cavaliers host the 37-13 Houston Rockets today (8:30pm ET Saturday on ABC).
Cleveland is in the midst of a poor stretch of play that has seen it go just 7-12 over its last 19 games. Eight of the losses have come by double digits. Isaiah Thomas has actually hurt the team since returning from his hip injury, and now Kevin Love is out for a couple of months at least.
Houston is on a roll right now. The Rockets are 10-2 in their last 12 games and have their trio of James Harden, Chris Paul and Clint Capela all healthy. That combination has meant good things for the team this year — Houston is 21-1 when all three are in the lineup.
The Rockets will be a slight road favorite here with the US offshore oddsmakers, considering their recent level of play and superior talent. Those American-facing bookies have been reticent to post betting odds on this NBA matchup yet, but are likely to make the spread around 3.5pts when they do. We will be offering our Rockets vs Cavs predictions and picks at the end of this preview, based on that almost certain likelihood. What can affect the result of this game, though? We will ask some of those questions and then decide how the game will play out.
Will LeBron James Be Energized to Take This Matchup Seriously?
It is certainly not the top reason for the Cavs’ recent struggles, but James’ production has fallen off in the past two weeks. His numbers have gone from unbelievable to rather mortal.
LeBron is averaging 22.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 8.1 assists over his last seven games, but he’s also turning the ball over 5.4 times per game and has a shooting slash of 47.3/18.2/61.2. I think part of this decline is having to adjust to Isaiah Thomas joining the lineup, part of it is fatigue and another part of it is him not having the motivation to bring his “A” game at this point in the season.
Houston is the second-best team in the NBA, and this is a home game for Cleveland. LeBron should have plenty of reason to give his best effort here, but will he?
Can an Unheralded Rocket Step Up to Overcome a Depth Disadvantage?
Trevor Ariza is out for the Rockets today and Eric Gordon is questionable. That’s definitely 35 minutes and potentially 67.2 minutes per game that need to be replaced by someone on a Rockets squad that doesn’t have great depth. It is this sort of uncertainty that is prompting the sportsbooks to hang fire with their betting lines for now.
Gerald Green will likely continue to play a bigger role. He has had three games of at least 22 points off the bench for Houston this season, and that’s the kind of performance the Rockets need to assert their dominance over the Cavs.
To be clear, that performance could come from Green, or from someone like P.J. Tucker, Luc Mbah a Moute or Nene.
Can Jae Crowder Embrace the Kevin Love Role As a High-Volume Floor Spacer?
Kevin Love’s broken hand is a major blow to the Cavs’ offense. As a stretch 4 or 5, depending on the lineup, he was key to keeping the paint open for penetration from LeBron James and other Cleveland players. Since Love makes 2.8 threes per 36 minutes at a 40.4 percent clip, opponents were too scared to help off of him.
Jae Crowder now steps into the spotlight as a key floor spacer for LeBron James. Crowder’s three-point marksmanship has improved since the beginning of the year, as he’s knocked down 11 of his 22 downtown attempts in his last seven contests.
However, Houston is going to destroy the Cavs if they don’t have their most accurate three-point shooters ready to fire away on open and somewhat open looks. The Rockets will probably knock down at least 15 threes, so Crowder needs to help the Cavs get close to that number.
Our Preview’s Houston Rockets at Cleveland Cavaliers Betting Picks & Predictions
Cleveland hasn’t been immune to poor performances at home as of late, and the Rockets do well no matter the locale when Harden, Paul and Capela are healthy. Houston is not the right opponent for Cleveland to escape its defensive issues against. As a result, USAbetting’s Houston Rockets vs Cleveland Cavaliers predictions go something like this:
- After defeating the Spurs in San Antonio on Thursday, the Rockets will treat the Cavs as another high-profile opponent to dominate. I’m not sure Cleveland will have the same motivation. Bet on the Rockets on the spread at what will likely be -3.5pts @ betting odds of -110 when the sportsbooks get out from behind the sofa and post their lines. The best options would be to place your wagers with any of Bovada, 5Dimes or Intertops, all good choices for residents of the USA.
- The Rockets have slowed the pace down a bit as of late, playing several games in the low 90s for possessions. Cleveland will also want to slow the game down so its older players don’t get too tired. Our prediction is that the points total for the game will be set by the bookies at circa 227.5pts. At this sort of level the wise pick in our view would be to bet the under.