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Houston Rockets Game Day Analysis: Can Rockets Lace Up Win Over New Look Cavaliers

By Tamberlyn Richardson
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Houston Rockets Game Day: We analyze how Rockets can regroup after late loss in Chicago to lace up a victory in Cleveland facing their new look roster:

Reformulated  Cavaliers:

Monday night a three team trade resulted in oft maligned Dion Waiters heading off to Oklahoma City.  Additionally, Lou Amundson and Alex Kirk headed to the Knicks as well as a 2019 draft pick in exchange for Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith. In essence Cleveland replaces one malcontent for another. Apparently LeBron James was consulted regarding the trade prior to it being finalized. I’m beginning to think James contract was not just to play for the Cavaliers, but as silent General Manager as well since his fingerprints seemingly appear on all the trades and interactions.

Many of us thought Waiters would not remain a Cavalier as it was a well thought consensus he was reluctant to play as a reserve.  Since the trade though social media is abuzz with news the real issue was Waiters felt he was a superior player to Kyrie Irving. Or at least, that’s what the Cav’s want us to think.

Dion Waiters reportedly clashed with coach David Blatt, thought he was better than Kyrie http://t.co/8mrReuLQV3 pic.twitter.com/zhDqIAZ6gw

— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 6, 2015

Moving forward it will definitely be something to keep an eye on as Waiters joins arguably the one player on par if not better than James in Kevin Durant. If Waiters takes to his role in Oklahoma City and excels it will put even more pressure on the Cavaliers who seem to be trying to make Waiters the scape goat for many of their internal conflict issues.

What could be even more interesting is if Waiters ends up winning a ring (which is highly probable) before Irving does.  In the interim, Cleveland will have to contend with another rebel in the form of J.R. Smith who long left his choir boy robe behind. Should be interesting to see how this all plays out.

J.R. Smith Quirky Facts: 

One of the more absurd pranks J.R. Smith has pulled in his career was a penchant for untying shoes of players standing along the sides of the paint during free throws. Tonight two of his victims will be playing in the game with him: Shawn Marion who is now his team mate, was the final player J.R. Smith levied his shoelace hijinx against resulting in the NBA fining him $50k.

And here’s where shoelace gate gets really interesting because the first victim of Smith was Houston Rocket Dwight Howard.

More from Rockets News

Teams Parallel Recent Woes:

Notably the two teams have a couple of things in common:

  • Both feature multiple All-Stars on their roster who appear to be having issues meshing
  • Both teams have made some recent changes to their rosters
  • Both teams have seen their super stars miss multiple games due to injury
  • Both teams are without the services a key front court player
  • Both teams have been experiencing multiple losses recently

As per the last point a closer examination shows:

  • Cleveland is 2-6 in over their last 8 games, during which time their offense has receded to 90.37 points per game. A significant drop of over 10 points off from their season average of 100.6. Granted LeBron James has missed 5 of those 6 games, Kyrie Irving has missed 2 and Kevin Love missed one.
  • Houston meanwhile are 2-4 in their past 6 games.  Of graver concern is since Dwight Howard’s return from injury the Rockets are allowing their opponents 101.41 points per game up from their season average of 97.4. Prior to the game in Chicago, Houston had spent the better portion of the year ranked second in defense, but given their recent troubles and lack of cohesiveness they’ve fallen to third.

Stats as per hoopsstats.com

Team Ranks:

Offense: The Cavaliers rank 11th scoring 105.5 points per 100 possessions (but have been plummeting without James scoring just 89 points in their last 6 games) and the Rockets rank 20th scoring 98.5 points per 100 possessions

Defense: The Cavaliers rank 23rd allowing 105.4 points per 100 possessions and the Rockets rank 2nd allowing 98.5 points per 100 possessions (but have been falling over past the past 12 games)

Net: The Cavaliers rank 15th with a +0.1 differential and the Rockets are tied for 10th with a +3.5 differential

Pace: The Cavaliers rank 25th with 95.55 possessions per 48 minutes and the Rockets rank 8th with 97.73 possessions per 48 minutes

Notable Stats:

  • Conversely the strength of the Rockets back court and combination of Harden’s scoring prowess mixed with Beverley’s defense has them ranked as the 4th best back court and the 8th best out of paint point differential.
  • Interestingly with all the hype surrounding Kyrie Irving being one of the best point guards in the NBA, Cleveland’s back court ranks 28th in the Association.
  • The majority of the season Houston have ranked near the bottom of the league and currently rank 29th in bench efficiency with a -11.3 differential as well as scoring producing only 24.8 points per game. Out of the blue Cleveland has dropped to 30th in differential with a -14.6 differential and rank 27th in scoring producing 25.5 points.
  • As per the above bench ranks the notable change is over the past 5 games Houston has risen to14th in bench scoring producing 35.4 points and have climbed to 7th in efficiency with a +9.8 differential.

Stats per hoopstats.com

More from Space City Scoop

Walking Wounded:

Cleveland:

  • Kyrie Irving has been out with lower back tightness since January 4th. Reports vary on his availability for tonight
  • LeBron James is out with a sore knee and back, he’ll be reevaluated today, but likely to remain out until January 15th
  • Iman Shumpert remains out with a shoulder injury targeting a mid January return
  • Anderson Varejao is out for the season with a torn Achilles tendon

Houston:

  • Terrence Jones remains out with leg/nerve issues
  • Alexey Shved remained out vs. Bulls and remains questionable for tonight with a sprained ankle

Key Match-up:

Reportedly Kyrie Irving will be available tonight which offers an intriguing match-up in the back court versus current top scorer James Harden. Both are adept at getting into the paint and both are said to be lacking defensively. Harden has improved his defensive standing this season, but the Rockets recent woes coupled with him being unable to push the team over the top since Howard’s return has to be troubling for Harden and the team in general.

Harden tends to have very strong performances after a sub par night, though a 20 point effort is well above the standard. If I was a betting woman though I’d bet his lack of trips to the free throw line won’t be repeated tonight.

The other key match-up will be Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson versus Donatas Motiejunas/Josh Smith and Dwight Howard. Love has been stringing together some great performances in his last 3 games shooting close to 52% from the field and averaging just over 28 points. His last game featured 28 point, 19 rebound effort, but still ended with a loss… to Philadelphia! Similarly, Smith has had some great outings scoring in the 20’s, but does McHale really want Smith taking three 3-point attempts in the final minute and half of games?

Both teams have ample motivation to get back on track and Cleveland has the advantage of lying in wait for 2 full days resting. Houston arrives following a tough loss in a physical game Monday in Chicago which they lost after leading late into the fourth.  Still, I’m inclined to believe the Rockets front court size will prove to be too much for Love and company.

Of note: Trevor Ariza is more than due for a break out performance. Could this be the night?

Keys to Winning:

  • McHale needs to figure out a way to bottle the result he achieved in the Miami Heat win when he implemented a seesaw rotation of Harden and Howard being on the floor. Against the Heat it resulted in both stars having big nights and for Houston to win this needs to become a nightly occurrence.
  • Rebounding will be key to garnering the win and I suspect whichever team controls the boards will ultimately control the game.
  • Houston has been working to decrease their gaudy turnover average where they currently rank 29th. They’ll need to make it a priority as Cleveland rank 8th for maintaining control of the ball.
  • Look for Houston to bring a bit of the “mean” tonight versus a Cavalier team not known for having tough players. Specifically look for Patrick Beverley and Josh Smith to play Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love with a little extra nasty.

The Pick: 

Earlier today I thought the odds makers were living up to their name oddly picking Cleveland to not only win, but to do so by 7.5 points. Since then I revisited the site to find it was an error and in fact it is Houston who is the +6.0 favorite.

Houston’s last game Monday in Chicago the zebras handed out a mere 5 trips to the free throw line for the entire Rocket team I’d be surprised if they followed it up by not making amends for the huge disparity (Chicago had 30 free throws). Nor will I be surprised if Harden drops 30 plus on the Cavaliers’ defense. Ultimately the sheer size of Houston’s front court should result in a huge disparity up front. I’m picking Houston by 8 points.

Check back with us post game for our Rocket Fire Recap grading the players and tomorrow for our Rocket Science game analysis.

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