In the second game of their Eastern Conference road trip, the 19-14 Houston Rockets will travel to play the 8-26 Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Rockets are coming off of a 115-101 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks in which they came back from 18 points down. James Harden led the way with 29 points and seven assists.
Jeremy Lin received five stitches in his head after colliding with Bucks center Larry Sanders.
As for the Cavaliers, they defeated the Charlotte Bobcats by a score of 106-104 on January 4, 2013. The Cavaliers blew a 14-point halftime lead but held on to fight off a furious rally.
Kyrie Irving led the charge with 33 points, six assists, five rebounds, four steals and three blocks.
According to Basketball-Reference.com's Player Game Finder, Irving was the first point guard since 1985-86 to accumulate that stat line. In other words, this young man is dominating.
The question is, will it be enough to will the Cavaliers to victory? Or will the Rockets' up-tempo attack be too much to handle?
We'll find that out in a matter of hours.
Time: Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: CSN Houston and FOX Sports Ohio
Records: Houston Rockets (19-14, 6-8 away) at Cleveland Cavaliers (8-26, 3-11 home)
Betting Line: Rockets (-6) at Cavaliers (+6) as of 1/4/13 at 11:45 p.m.ET via VegasInsider.com
Injuries: Jeremy Lin, head/stitches; Anderson Varejao, knee
Key Storyline: Fatigue and Injuries
When the Houston Rockets travel to play the Cleveland Cavaliers, they will be in their second road game in as many games. The Cavaliers will be going from a road game against Charlotte to a home game in Cleveland.
In other words, neither side has too much of an advantage from a fatigue standpoint.
With that being said, don't assume that either team will be at full strength. Not only are the players tired, but they're injured.
Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller have all been wearing protective facial masks. Anderson Varejao is battling knee troubles.
As for Houston, Lin is coming off of a game in which he required stitches in the side of his head.
Although injuries and fatigue may not decide the outcome of the game, they will have a significant impact. Specifically on key positions, where Lin battles Kyrie Irving and Varejao is absent against Omer Asik.
So where must we look to establish the deciding factors?
Key Matchup: Omer Asik vs. Tyler Zeller
What this means is that Varejao is going to be absent when the Cavs host the Rockets. In turn, it will be Tyler Zeller who is forced into battle against rebounding machine Omer Asik.
The question is, can the rookie hold his own against Houston's interior monster?
During Varejao's eight-game absence, Zeller is averaging 11.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game. He's playing an average of 33.9 minutes per game.
In other words, Zeller has been average. The Cavaliers need more than that against Asik.
Fortunately, Zeller has scored in double figures in five of eight appearances. He has at least seven rebounds in six of his past eight.
With that being said, Houston has won eight of its past 11 games in which Asik has 10 or more rebounds. If Zeller allows Asik to dominate the glass, that trend won't break.
It's dominate the glass or fail, for Cleveland. That's more on Zeller than anyone else.
X-Factor: Jeremy Lin, Houston Rockets
This may appear to be rather obvious, but there are extenuating circumstances surrounding Jeremy Lin.
Lin posted eight points, seven assists and four steals in 29 minutes during his most recent game. He also cracked the side of his head open and required five stitches.
As impressive as his comeback may have been, one can't help but wonder if he'll be up to the task of defending Kyrie Irving. Specifically on the second road game of a back-to-back.
Speaking of Irving, he is coming off of a game in which he posted 33 points, six assists, five rebounds, four steals and three blocks. He was the first point guard since 1985-86 to achieve said feat.
Chances are, the reigning Rookie of the Year award winner will be looking to follow up that performance with another big outing.
If Lin is able to force turnovers and slow Irving down, Houston should win handily. If he's unable to, however, Irving should match James Harden's scoring step by step.
Just remember one thing. The last time Lin played Irving, the Houston point guard posted 19 points and 13 assists.
He's had at least seven assists in eight of his past 10 games. Is it time Lin finds his scoring touch too?
Houston Rockets depth chart via ESPN.com.
Cleveland Cavaliers depth chart via ESPN.com.
When the Houston Rockets travel to play the Cleveland Cavaliers, this battle will be decided by depth.
At the forefront will be James Harden and Kyrie Irving, who are two of the top 10 scorers in the NBA. In fact, they rank fifth and sixth, respectively, on the league's scoring ladder.
Unfortunately for Irving, it is Harden that has the supporting cast to pick up the W.
The Rockets presently rank first in the NBA in scoring defense. They have five separate players averaging double-digit scoring and eight with at least 8.7 points per game.
Cleveland ranks 24th in scoring offense and have just four active players in double digits.
Furthermore, the Cavs place just 23rd in scoring defense. Paired with a ranking of 30th in assists per game, it is clear that Cleveland is not built to win a shootout.
Unfortunately for Kyrie and Co., that's what Houston finds itself in every time out.
Irving will keep this game close with his scoring prowess. Youngsters Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller will play their part early on, as well.
Look for Carlos Delfino's three-point shooting and Marcus Morris' uncanny ability to spread the floor to counter their production.
As for Harden, he will continue his rapid development into one of the most well-rounded players in the NBA. Paired with Lin's fourth-quarter heroics, the Rockets will prevail.
By the slimmest of double-digit margins.
Houston Rockets 106, Cleveland Cavaliers 93
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