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Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Houston Rockets Preview: Life Without Dion

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The Cleveland Cavaliers will host the Houston Rockets in the early ESPN game tonight, their first game since the Dion Waiters trade.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Remember when the Cleveland Cavaliers lost to the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday night? I certainly don't. The Dion Waiters trade was announced in the middle of that game, which was a perfect time given the Sixers were in the midst of a 95-92 comeback victory against a pitifully undermanned Cavs squad. Even with the trade, the Cavs will still be undermanned tonight, as LeBron James and Iman Shumpert are all not expected to play. However, Kyrie Irving will be back in the lineup tonight, and  pending a physical, J.R. Smith could play tonight, and that's cause for celebration.

Who: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Houston Rockets

When: 7:00PM ET

Where: Quicken Loans Arena - Cleveland, Ohio

Television: ESPN/Fox Sports Ohio

Music: Milford Jerome - So Right

Absolutely mandatory listening to get yourself in the mood tonight.

Both of These Teams are Struggling. We know what's going on with the Cavs - They're woefully injured right now, and their offense has totally died since LeBron went out with injury, only topping 100 points once in their five-of-six losing streak. However, the Rockets have also not been good of late. Houston has lost four of their last six games, with their wins coming against woeful Charlotte and completely battered Miami. They've struggled to defend consistently since Dwight Howard returned to the lineup from injury in early December, and James Harden, who admittedly has been playing like an MVP candidate, has been their only consistent scorer. As a result, a team that was red-hot to start the season and looked like a Finals contender currently sits in the five spot in the West, with the surging Clippers breathing down their necks. The Cavs are far from the only vulnerable team playing tonight.

The Cavs Defense May Actually Force Houston into Some Bad Spots. The Rockets' offense is somewhat gimmicky. They take a blistering amount of threes (33.7 attempts per game), and they eschew mid-range shots in order to drive to the rim, hoping for contact. That actually plays somewhat into the strengths of the Cavs' defense. Harden loves attempting to draw contact, as do Dwight and Trevor Ariza. Sometimes, these players will go out of their way to fish for contact, which seems like a bad plan tonight, given the Cavs' low foul rate. The Rockets are going to try to bait contact, which the Cavs won't give, and that could limit the effectiveness of the Rockets' drives to the rim. On the perimeter, the Cavs also do a fairly good job of limiting three-point attempts. If they can keep the Rockets from getting open threes, instead funneling their drivers into the lane where they'll try to convert those into free throw attempts that probably won't come, the Cavs could have some defensive success tonight.

Kyrie Back! After missing two games with a knee contusion, Kyrie will be back in the lineup tonight:

Obviously this is going to be a huge boon to the offense, as Kyrie and Kevin Love playing together is a much better alternative to starting Matthew Dellavedova. Hopefully Irving will help the abysmal play of the offense, and a scoring duel between Harden and Irving will be very fun. This is great news, as it hopefully will help prevent "What's wrong with the Cavs??" hot takes from the national TV crowd as they watched a Cavs team that was basically Love and four negative offensive players struggle against a good Rockets defense. With Kyrie here, the offense should have a pulse, at least.

Fear the Sword's Fearless Prediction: Houston's basically fully healthy, which will give them the edge tonight, but I think this could be a closer game than expected. The Rockets have been very inconsistent lately, and if Harden tries to get cute in attempting to torch Harris, I could see their offense stagnating enough that the Cavs can stay in the game. But ultimately, I can't see them scoring enough to keep pace with the Rockets' O. Rockets 102, Cavs 94.