Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Houston Rockets Preview and Pick

Cleveland Cavaliers (27-20) +4, 184 at Houston Rockets (28-20), 8 pm
Eastern Thursday, TNT

by Zman of

Two of hottest teams of the new year meet when the Cleveland Cavaliers pay a visit to the Houston Rockets in the opener of an NBA/TNT double-header Thursday night.

The NBA oddsmaker lists Houston as a 4 1/2-point home favorite for Thursday’s game, with a total of 184. Also, the Rockets are listed at around -200 on various moneylines, with Cleveland getting +180 as road underdogs.

The differences between the two conferences is apparent when examining the situations surrounding these two teams. Cleveland is 27-20, and solidly entrenched in the middle of the Eastern Conference standings at fourth. Meanwhile, Houston is 28-20, but that’s only good for 9th place in the West. The Rockets would be watching the playoffs on TV if the post-season began today.

The Cavs are coming off Tuesday’s big 114-113 win over the Boston Celtics, the best team in the league so far this season. So Cleveland is now 13-3 in 2008. On the other side of this match-up, Houston beat Minnesota Monday 92-86, and is now 13-4 since the turn of the year.

The Cavaliers, winners of four of their last five games, are in second place in the Central Division, 7 games behind the first-place Detroit Pistons.

The Rockets, winners of four straight, are in fourth place in the Southwest Division, but only five games behind the first-place New Orleans Hornets and Dallas Mavericks. More importantly, though, Houston sits in a tie for 9th place in the Western Conference standings, just one game back of the Golden State Warriors and Denver Nuggets, who are in a tie for the eighth and final West playoff spot.

Cleveland is 22-25 against the spread this season, 12-13 straight up but 14-11 vs. the numbers on the road.

The Rockets are 24-23 ATS this season, but just 12-9 SU and 9-11 vs. the numbers at home.

This is the first meeting between these two teams this season. Last season, the teams split two games, with the Cavs winning 91-85 in C-Town and the Rockets winning 81-63 in H-Town. Both games easily stayed under their totals. But Houston held one solid statistical advantage, outrebounding Cleveland 113-88 in the two games together.

The Rockets rank 12th in the league with a +2.3 per-game point differential. Meanwhile, despite a winning record, the Cavs are getting outscored this season on average by .6 points per game.

Neither of these two teams is too proficient at putting the ball in the hole. Cleveland is shooting 44% from the field as a team, 36% from 3-point range and 72% from the free-throw line, while Houston is shooting 45% from the floor, 34% from long range and 73% from the line.

But these are the two best rebounding teams in the league; the Cavs and Rockets are tied for the #1 ranking in rebounding at +3.5 per game.

Also, Houston ranks 16th in the league with a 1.51 team assist/turnover ratio, Cleveland 23rd at 1.41. And while the Rockets rank 2nd in FG defense at 44%, the Cavaliers rank 23rd at 46%.

On the injury front, the Cavs are already missing F Anderson Varejao, who’s
out for the next 3-4 weeks with a bad ankle. And F Drew Gooden is listed
as both doubtful and questionable for Thursday’s game after tweaking a groin
Tuesday night. Together this season, Varejao and Gooden are averaging 19
points and 17 rebounds a game.

The Sagarin PREDICTOR ratings at ranks Houston 11th at 92.9, Cleveland 14th at 90.7. Sagarin’s current NBA home-court advantage figure is 3.0.

The o/u is 24-22 in Cavs games this season, which are averaging 195 total points, while the totals are 20-27 in Rockets games, which are averaging 189 points.

Zman’s Pick: Houston Rockets -5. (Also a great game to throw into a teaser bet.)