Confession: sometimes I like doing these previews because I don't know much about the team the Cavaliers are playing, and it is a good way to dive in.
This is one of those times. Whereas I have seen anywhere from 10-15 New Orleans Pelicans games this season, I have probably only seen the Houston Rockets play a total of two games, and never one straight through. A quarter or half here and there. Going to law school, and teaching, and coaching debate, and watching every Cavs game takes up a lot of my time.
The Rockets are known for quite a few things. Daryl Morey is on the cutting edge of implementing analytics into the way he structures his team. James Harden and Dwight Howard are All-Stars. Terrence Jones is looking like a heck of a steal from the 2012 draft. Jeremy Lin did that crazy stuff for New York for that month or however long. Chandler Parsons was taken in the second round and is quite good. Let's try and get a little deeper, though.
Who: Cleveland Cavaliers (16-30) at Houston Rockets (31-17)
When: 8:00 ET
Where: The Toyota Center, Houston, Texas
How do I watch? Fox Sports Ohio, NBA League Pass
When the Rockets convinced Dwight Howard to sign in Houston this summer, the consensus seemed to be that the team would be a likely playoff team situated right below the Oklahoma City's and San Antonio Spurs of the world. So far this season, that would appear to be the case. Currently the 5th seed in a loaded Western Conference, the Rockets are both very good and a step below championship contention. They also seem to flying under the radar a bit while teams like Portland and Golden State suck up national media oxygen.
That's a little strange because this seems like a really fun team. James Harden is incredibly efficient. He is maligned for his defense, and deservedly so, but there are few guards in the NBA who can post a 59% true shooting mark while maintaining the high usage that he does. He is a star and is more than worth the contract and assets Houston was willing to spend to make him a Rocket. With his propensity to get to the rim and avoid midrange jump shots, he is a perfect fit for a Daryl Morey offense.
Dwight Howard, as frustrating of a human being that he is, has rebounded really nicely from an injury plagued season in Los Angeles. He has made the Rockets defense better, though they still rank just 16th in defensive rating, while finding ways be effective offensively despite his diminished athleticism and poor free throw shooting. He isn't a perfect offensive player by any means, but even at 53% free throw shooting he is giving you more than a point per possession when he goes to the line, and almost any offense would take that.
Chandler Parsons is a really useful offensive player. He isn't a good player for being taken in the second round. He is a good player period. 17 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists per game is phenomenal. The Rockets really rely on him, as he plays 38 minutes a game. Terrence Jones, taken with the pick immediately following Cleveland's selection of Tyler Zeller, has surpassed nearly everyone's expectations. I wrote that I thought he could be a 6th man of the year candidate at some point when I evaluated him before the draft, but I fully supported the Cavs selection of Zeller. At this point, I just hope Anthony Bennett can turn into a Jones type player, but that's a steep hill to climb.
So what does this mean for the Cavaliers?
Houston isn't a great defensive team. The Cavaliers have shown they can score when they move the ball. It's hard to expect the Cavaliers to do that consistently at all. Cleveland appears lost at the moment, with Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Jarrett Jack doing too much dribbling. Tristan Thompson decided he wanted to stop being a viable NBA player in the last week for some reason. No clue on whether Anderson Varejao will play.
The Cavs have played the Western Conference's top teams like Golden State and Portland tough this year. Maybe they can hang with the Rockets.
Fear the Sword's fearless prediction: The Cavaliers hang around for awhile, but this isn't the team to try and right the ship against. Rockets 116, Cavs 107.