How ready will the Cavaliers be to play and play well against the Houston Rockets on Sunday and can they cover the NBA spread?
Check inside this article our NBA pick for this game.
The Cleveland Cavaliers Can Win Because…
LeBron James will be back in the lineup after missing Friday’s game against Indiana. James was held out of the lineup for a combination of reasons. He had a stiff lower back, but the Cavaliers’ plane after the win over Golden State had mechanical problems, so it didn’t get out of Cleveland in the overnight hours. Cleveland didn’t leave until late in the morning, shortly before noon. The Cavaliers didn’t have much time in Indianapolis before their game against the Pacers. Cleveland coach David Blatt decided to hold LeBron out of the lineup for that reason, not just the lower back. LeBron reportedly did not suggest the idea. It was Blatt’s idea. LeBron, being the athlete, wants to play, but his coach thought better of it. LeBron might not have been happy with the move, but this is where it can benefit the Cavs.
LeBron will wind up having two full days off since the Golden State game. He has shown that even with Kevin Love not playing very well this season, he can lift Cleveland to a higher level. He scored 42 points, snatched 11 rebounds, and dished out five assists against Golden State. He dominated the game and enabled Cleveland to win even though Irving was just 6 of 17 from the field and teammate J.R. Smith scored just four points. Irving might not play in this game against Houston, but if a rested LeBron is in good shape – and he probably will be – Cleveland should be able to do what it needs to do at both ends of the floor, especially on offense.
The Houston Rockets Can Win Because…
They should be able to benefit from Kyrie Irving’s absence, assuming that Irving won’t play. It is possible that Irving will play, but after suffering a shoulder injury on Thursday and an MRI revealing a buildup of some fluid in that shoulder, Irving is not likely to be able to do much even if he could suit up. Without Irving, Cleveland loses the other main scorer in the lineup, the player who can work with James to spread out defenses and attack the basket on the dribble. Irving had scored 18, 18 and 25 points in his previous three games before a 24-point outing against Golden State on Thursday. He’s averaging 21.7 points per game this season, not to mention 5.2 assists to help LeBron in distributing the ball to teammates. That’s a lot of production Cleveland will either miss outright or see less of (in the event that Irving plays but is well below 100 percent).
Houston is a 1-point NBA odds favorite for this game and can also win it due to Friday's victory over Brooklyn despite a 4 of 15 shooting performance from James Harden. It is very difficult to imagine Harden playing poorly two games in a row. If Houston gets a good effort from Harden (50 percent shooting, at least 16 shot attempts, at least two three-point shots, at least seven made free throws, at least 10 assists), it should be able to attack Cleveland’s defense successfully.
The other thing to point out about this game is that Cleveland is in the midst of a 10-day stretch in which it is playing seven games. Blatt benched LeBron on Friday for many reasons, but one is that he knows he has to gently guide this team through a brutal travel schedule and a set of many road games. Cleveland might not be ready to play this game with complete commitment.
The injury to Irving and Cleveland’s realization of what’s ahead on the schedule, not to mention James Harden’s ability to bounce back from a rough night on Friday, should all play into a Houston victory at home. If Irving is out, take the Rockets with your NBA picks.
NBA Pick: Houston at 5Dimes