at CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
Tip-off: Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET
Line: N/A, Total: N/A
Can the porous Cavs defense do anything to stop Houston?It's a tumultuous time within the Cavaliers organization. All-Star PF Kevin Love broke his left hand and his out six to eight weeks. PG Isaiah Thomas has shot poorly since returning from an injury of his own that kept him out until January, and his presence has only made a dismal defense worse. And, if you believe the news reports, LeBron James will take a meeting with the Golden State Warriors in the offseason? The Cavs got through the Eastern Conference playoffs just fine as the No. 2 seed last year, but right now Cleveland is closer to the eight seed in the East than it is the one seed. They'll face a brutal challenge in their home court on Saturday night, when they play host for the visiting Houston Rockets. The Rockets have consistently been the second-best team in the league this year, even with various key players missing extended stretches of games with injuries. Saturday's game will be their second straight on national television after traveling to San Antonio on Thursday night. The trip to Cleveland will be their second leg of a four-game road trip.
Rockets SG James Harden regularly does things on the court that feel historical, but on Tuesday night he unleashed a stat line that had literally never been seen before. He scored 60 points on 19-of-30 shooting, and added 10 rebounds and 11 assists to amass the first-ever 60-point triple-double in the NBA. He even added four steals for good measure. Normally a 114-107 home win over Orlando wouldn't be all that significant for the Rockets, but Harden carried the team without PG Chris Paul and SG Eric Gordon on the floor, as both were sitting with minor injuries. Harden and Paul are on pace to become the first teammates in league history to each average eight-plus assists per game, a feat that would have once seemed impossible. It seems especially unlikely given that they're the team's two leading scorers, but the Rockets offense is just that potent. They're undefeated this year in games in which they and C Clint Capela have all played. With three blocks and 13 rebounds against the Magic, Capela showed off what he does best. It was his 12th three-block game of the season. His 12 points on the night were also the second most behind Harden. PF Ryan Anderson and SG Gerald Green also reached double-digits.
Love brings a lot to the Cleveland lineup, and so his absence takes a lot away. He is the team's best rebounder, he stretches the floor as a shooter, and he is in excellent passer on all parts of the court. While his personality seems to have made him a target of LeBron and other Cavs over the years, he is pretty easily the second-best player on this year's roster. Of course, if Thomas returns to the form he displayed as a Celtic the past couple of seasons, he could claim that title. He was historically efficient as a high-volume shooter last year; he shot 2-of-15 against Miami on Wednesday night. He's certainly not playing at full strength right now, but he looks like a poor fit in Cleveland regardless. James has looked as good as everóa remarkable fact considering his ageóbut recently it seems that his strong performances haven't been enough to get the Cavs over the hump. One player to watch while Love is out is C Tristan Thompson. He looks like he'll be in the starting lineup regularly over the last few weeks, and while he didn't score a single point against the Heat in 23 minutes, he was a game-best plus-eight on the court and helped the Cavs look much more competent on defense.