As the Rockets were working through their well-documented early season struggles, the team picked up some momentum in mid-November as they reeled off 5 straight victories including wins over the Pacers, Nuggets, and Warriors. That optimism was short-lived as they followed up that win streak with a 4-game skid, with a dispiriting loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers representing the lowlight of the stretch. Riding 20 rebounds from Tristan Thompson and one of Colin Sexton’s best games as a pro (29 points on 14/21 shooting), the Cavs took advantage of a lackadaisical Rockets squad en route to a 117-108 win.
Luckily for all of Red Nation, things are a little different this time around. The Rockets are playing their best basketball of the season and it’s the Cavs coming into town losers of 11 straight. Still, the Rockets have had a knack of playing to the level of their competition this year and tonight represents the beginning of a critical portion of the schedule with 4 straight coming up against sub-.500 competition. In a crowded Western Conference, games like these are must-haves for the Rockets, so let’s take a closer look at a couple under-the-radar aspects of this matchup that warrant some extra attention.
- We all know that the brilliance of James Harden has lifted the team back into the thick of the playoff race, but Clint Capela has had a sizeable impact as well. Capela will need to improve upon his last performance against the Cavs, when he was soundly outplayed by Thompson. When Capela is active and plays well, the Rockets are tough to beat. Look no further than the past 10 games where he has chipped in 18 points per game alongside a whopping 16 rebounds per game. The Rockets record during that time frame? 7-3. Expect him to bounce back from his subpar performance against the Bucks with a strong effort on the offensive glass, where he has sported a 16% OREB% over the past 10 games, a figure that would lead the league if stretched over the whole season.
- No doubt that PJ Tucker’s most valuable contributions to this team come on the defensive end, but his ability to space the floor on offense allows him to stay on the floor for the huge number of minutes he plays. His shooting from 3-point land has fallen off a cliff in the last 10 games, save a much-needed shooting display against the Nuggets. Excluding that game, Tucker is shooting 26% from 3 in his last 10 games. A matchup against the Cavs may be just what the doctor ordered. The Cavs are dead last in overall defensive rating, and the 4th worst in the league in terms of opponent 3FG%. Games like these can serve as confidence builders for players going through tough stretches. Let’s all hope that PJ is able to use this opportunity to find his stroke.
My best guess is that the Rockets send the Cavs home with their 12th straight loss. Look for the Rockets to take control with a strong showing from 3 and on the glass. Vegas has the Rockets as 14-point favorites and while I don’t expect them to cover, this one should be over early.
Prediction – Rockets 117 – Cavs 106