The Houston Rockets are cooling off a bit with losses in two of their last three games after falling 116-109 to the East-leading Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday. James Harden will try to drag his team back into the win column when the Rockets take a step down in Eastern Conference foes while hosting the NBA-worst Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday.
Harden went head-to-head with his closest competitor in the NBA MVP race on Wednesday and posted his 14th straight game with 30 or more points by scoring 42 on 13-of-30 shooting, but Giannis Antetokounmpo ended up with the win. "We've just got to keep fighting," Harden told reporters. "That's what it's about. It's the grind. We've been playing some really good teams and you've just got to continue to fight. We're down a couple players, but that's no excuse." The Cavaliers scored 38 points in the first quarter on Wednesday but still couldn't avoid an 11th consecutive setback while falling 140-124 at the New Orleans Pelicans in the opener of a six-game trip. "We just have to buckle down and try to put four solid quarters together, which we haven't been able to do," Cleveland coach Larry Drew told reporters. "We just have to continue working on it."
TV: 8 p.m. ET, FS Ohio (Cleveland), AT&T SportsNet Southwest (Houston) LINE: Rockets -13.5
ABOUT THE CAVALIERS (8-34): Cleveland allowed New Orleans to shoot 54.8 percent from the floor in its most recent loss but can take away some positives offensively after knocking down 14 3-pointers and placing seven scorers in double figures. The Cavaliers did not get much out of rookie point guard Collin Sexton (13 points on 2-of-12 shooting) but placed a pair of reserve point guards in double figures as Matthew Dellavedova and Cameron Payne combined for 33 points on 12-of-16 shooting. Those two were joined by reserve guard Jordan Clarkson, who scored a team-high 21 points in his third straight 20-plus performance.
ABOUT THE ROCKETS (23-17): Houston let the game slip away while getting outscored 38-23 in the third quarter but is taking some positives from Wednesday's setback. "These games are probably more important than the ones we win, just because these teams are feisty and scrappy, and they come in here and try to get a big road win," Harden told reporters. "We've got to lock back in, watch some film (Thursday), prepare, get ready for Cleveland." The Rockets shot 37.6 percent from the floor against the Bucks as center Clint Capela endured a rare tough shooting night, going 4-of-16 from the floor.
1. Cavaliers PF Larry Nance Jr. (knee) missed Wednesday game and is questionable for Friday.
2. Rockets SG Eric Gordon (knee) sat out the last five contests and is not expected to play Friday.
3. Cleveland knocked off Houston 117-108 at home on Nov. 24 as Sexton scored 29 points on 14-of-21 shooting.
PREDICTION: Rockets 128, Cavaliers 110 Bet Now
See all the NBA basketball Predictions