Here’s hoping we get at least one marquee NBA matchup this weekend where the best players actually suit up. That’s no lock, though.
Following Saturday night’s triple-double in a 116-104 win in Orlando, James offered no indication that he’d sit out the Sunday showdown against Houston, but that doesn’t mean he can’t decide to take the night off if he feels any soreness or senses it’s better off to play it safe. After all, just like Golden State was against San Antonio, Cleveland is on the second night of a back-to-back, closing out a stretch of road games. The Cavs will be playing their third in four days and will be at their sixth date away from home this month. That’s a lot of mileage.
Cleveland won’t play again until Tuesday night against the Hornets, and is going to be way out in L.A. this weekend facing the Clippers and Lakers. The Cavs will be starting another stretch that the schedule calls for it to hit the road for six of seven, so it might not be the worst idea to sit him for a high-possession game after he worked for 38 minutes against the Magic. Kevin Love won’t be back until April and Kyle Korver has been shelved for the next week due to a sore left foot, so it’s not like the Cavs are gaining experience with their postseason starting lineup out there. Deron Williams just arrived. J.R. Smith just returned. The memory of Andrew Bogut being lost for the season after a misstep on a simple close-out less than a minute into his Cavs debut still lingers.
“It’s been a strange season, probably one of the strangest I’ve been a part of from the simple fact of just having the chemistry and camraderie out on the floor,” James told reporters after the win in Orlando. “From the coaches to the players, guys have been in and out. We’ve had injuries and things of that nature.”
Even head coach Tyronn Lue has been dealing with vertigo-related issues, and while the Cavs already rested James and Irving on March 4 down in Miami, it’s not out of the question that they opt not to bother with a road game against a Rockets team that has thrived due to improved chemistry and a defined identity. Cleveland avoided what would have been a season-long four-game losing streak by pulling away from the Magic in the fourth. James has now posted back-to-back triple-doubles, increasing his total this season to nine and his career tally to 51. Over his first five games in March, LeBron is averaging 29.8 points, 13.6 rebounds and 9.4 assists, but his team is just 2-3 when he’s participated.
If he sits, the Cavs might as well sit Irving too. Consider this a friendly reminder that this could all happen, so you’re going to want to get pre-game confirmation that everyone is a go here before you decide you’re all about that action. You should also remember that Cleveland is 0-5 this season when James doesn’t play, falling to 4-20 in his absence since his 2015 return to the franchise.
If everyone plays, we should get a great show. The Rockets snapped a two-game skid with a 21-point win at Chicago on Friday night in a game where they were never challenged. James Harden, who ranks second behind Russell Westbrook with 15 triple-doubles, scored just 19 points on 6-for-16 shooting and had six turnovers, matching his average for the month. He suffered an ankle sprain in the victory but doesn’t expect it to hamper or him or keep him out of the lineup. After winning its first two after the All-Star break upon acquiring Lou Williams, Houston is just 3-3 since and Harden has had games where he’s gone 1-for-9 and 0-for-8 from beyond the arc. His struggles are enough to make you wonder whether he’s wearing down and succumbing to the season-long grind too.
The Rockets have fallen six games behind the Spurs in the Southwest Division and are 6.5 back of the Warriors for the best record in the Western Conference. They remain one game up on the Cavs for the third-best mark in the league, but are even with the Cavs in the loss column at 21. Cleveland won this season’s lone meeting 128-120 way back on Nov. 1 behind Irving’s 32 points and 19 points, 13 boards and eight assists from James. Harden scored 41 and dished out 15 dimes in a game where separation was gained through a 43-36 fourth-quarter advantage. Houston point guard Pat Beverley wasn’t yet healthy enough to play.
The Rockets don’t play again until Wednesday when the Lakers come through town, so expect all hands on deck. After this contest, Houston will play five consecutive games against teams with losing records, so it has an opportunity to run off a streak if it can take care of business against the Cavs. Houston has won seven of the last nine in this series and hasn’t been swept by Cleveland in both regular-season meetings since 2001-02, a streak that lies in jeopardy tonight.