Houston Rockets vs. Cleveland Cavaliers, 8 P.M EST; Kyrie Irving Out Against Jeremy Lin; TV Schedule, Live Stream, Matchups, Game Preview
James Harden, Jeremy Lin and the Houston Rockets (37-31) find themselves in a major push for positioning in the NBA Playoffs.
However, to keep building momentum, they will have to contend with a team that likes to play spoiler these days when they play the Cleveland Cavaliers (22-46) Friday.
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The Rockets have been on a roll in March, having won six of their last nine games, powered by Harden's 26.2 points for the month and the improving-surging, actually-play of Lin, who has scored 20-plus points in his last three games while scoring 16.9 points for the month. Facing a tough stretch ahead of them this month against the Spurs, Clippers and Grizzlies, the Rockets will be looking to build as much momentum as they can possibly get.
However, doing that against the Cavaliers won't be as easy as it sounds, even though the Cavs, who have been struggling all season, are riddled with injuries-All-Star Kyrie Irving and rookie star Dion Waiters among those injured.
On Wednesday, the Cavaliers were actually pounding the defending champion Miami Heat by 27 points in the third quarter before the Heat rallied for a 98-95 win to keep their winning streak going. The last time the Rockets played the Cavs on Jan. 5, the Rockets barely survived a 30-point outburst from Irving to win 112-104. Even without Irving, can the Cavaliers summon that same skill from Wednesday to beat the Rockets? Or will the Rockets keep rolling on in their playoff march?
Latinos Post breaks down the key match-ups for Friday:
Power forward: Tristan Thompson, Cavaliers vs. Donatas Motiejunas, Rockets
Thompson has been playing some fine basketball as of late, averaging 14.2 points and 9.6 rebounds at the four spot in the last five games-although it has largely been for naught as the Cavs have lost four of their last five games. Thompson shined against Miami on Wednesday with 18 points and did well against the Rockets with 14 points in their last encounter. Motiejunas hasn't racketed a lot of points or boards, but Rockets coach Kevin McHale praised the Rockets' new power forward for his hustle. Altogether, Motiejunas will have to make sure his "D" is on its "A-game" Friday night to make sure that Thompson doesn't get too hot.
Small forward: Alonzo Gee, Cavaliers vs. Chandler Parsons, Rockets
Gee has been providing valuable production for the Cavs since March 12, averaging 12.0 points in five games. He could be asked to kick up the point production with Irving out. He is matched fairly well by Parsons, who have averaged 15.0 points this season. However, Parsons has seen his production cool in the last five games, shooting only 27.1 percent from the field. With both matching up evenly, whoever has the better might may just tip the odds in favor of his team.
Center: Tyler Zeller, Cavaliers vs. Omer Asik, Rockets
The rookie Zeller has been somewhat quiet on offense, averaging 8.0 points and 6.2 rebounds in the last five games. While he has had double-doubles in the last four games, he will need to focus on defense in order to keep the lane clogged for Cleveland against the Rockets. Asik, who has been averaging double figures in points and rebounds this season for Houston, has slowed on offense, averaging only 8.4 points in March despite shooting an effective 45.5 percent on his limited touches since March 9.
Shooting Guard: Wayne Ellington, Cavaliers vs. James Harden, Rockets
With Dion Waiters on the mend, Ellington has been taking on additional minutes, and has shown flashes of brilliance over the last five games, with 20-plus point games against heavy-hitters San Antonio and Miami. Harden, who is on fire this month with 26.2 points in nine games. Harden scored 29 points against the Rockets last time around. If he can repeat that performance or improve on it, the Rockets will have a clear path to victory.
Point Guard: Deron Williams, Nets vs. Jeremy Lin, Rockets
Filling in for injured Kyrie Irving, Livingston was effective on offense Wednesday against the Heat, shooting 6-of-11 against Miami for 14 points. Normally a stable shooter from the bench, Livingston will have his hands full when he takes on Lin, who is heating up on offense this month. In the last three games, Lin has scored over 20 points per game. Averaging 18.6 points in his last five games, Lin has been shooting at his finest, hitting on 56.5 percent of his shooting with 5.6 assists to boot. The last time Lin played the Cavs, he scored 20 points in one of those nights where Houston's backcourt was the motor for the Rockets' scoring. If Lin can keep up his renewed pace, the Rockets may be unbeatable against the Cavs.
Carlos Delfino will be the go-to weapon on Houston's bench arsenal, while Greg Smith and Patrick Beverly will need to be effective platooning for the backcourt.
C.J. Miles is the Cavs' best player off the bench, as his 21-point night against the Pacers Monday shows. Marreese Speights provides solid depth at the power forward spot and Omri Casspi can be effective at the small forward spot.
Game Time, TV Schedule
Game time starts at 8 p.m. EST on CSN Houston. Live score is available via TV Companion, here.
Live Streaming for the Game is can be seen via NBA League Pass.