Houston Rockets vs. Cleveland Cavaliers Pick & Prediction MARCH 16th 2024

Cleveland welcomed five-time All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell back to its lineup on Wednesday in New Orleans. And given how unevenly they performed during his seven-game injury absence, the short-handed Cavaliers certainly were elated to have Mitchell back and contributing as they prepare to visit the Houston Rockets on Saturday.

But what resonated for the Cavaliers (42-24) in their 116-95 victory over the Pelicans was yet another stifling defensive performance, one that came with Cleveland still playing without starters Evan Mobley (ankle) and Max Strus (knee), and reserve Dean Wade (personal).

The Cavaliers entered Friday third in the NBA with a 110.8 defensive rating, and even with their roster compromised by injury, they limited the Pelicans to a 46.3 effective field goal percentage while recording four steals and four blocked shots.

Mitchell, as was to be expected, was somewhat rusty, missing 11 of 16 shots while posting 14 points and five assists. But the Cavaliers — currently third in the Eastern Conference standings — were locked in defensively, earning high praise from coach J.B. Bickerstaff, who used the term “elite” to describe his defense.

“It was taking on individual challenges and being great in our schemes,” Bickerstaff said. “We knew we needed to get one, and when we win basketball games it’s because of our defense. So we knew we had to come out and defend with a purpose, and we did.”

The Rockets (31-35) won for the sixth time in seven games on Thursday, rolling over the Washington Wizards 135-119 for their fourth consecutive victory. Houston has generated momentum despite being without standout center Alperen Sengun (ankle/knee) for the last two games, relying on a smaller lineup with rookie guard Amen Thompson replacing Sengun.

“It’s been solid,” Rockets coach Ime Udoka said of the adjustment made. “The low-post scoring and spacing are different (without Sengun), a lot more five-out open sets. So the driving lanes may be a little different but what he brings to us is invaluable and you can’t duplicate that, the attention he draws out of the post.

“That’ll take a hit but we can still play with the same pace that we did when he was here. Even before the All-Star break we really picked up the pace. That doesn’t change — if anything that increases adding Amen to the starting lineup.”

The three-guard lineup worked against the Wizards. Thompson (20 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, three steals) contributed an all-around effort to complement the scoring of Jalen Green and Fred VanVleet, who totaled 64 points, with Green adding eight boards and VanVleet nine assists.

Without Sengun and rookie wing Cam Whitmore (knee), the Rockets are facing an uphill battle in terms of maintaining their recent momentum. But their play of late has sparked hopes of challenging for a play-in berth in the Western Conference, with recent wins bolstering those odds.

“We want to continue to play this way regardless,” Udoka said. “We’ll live with the results. We’ll need some help obviously as far as that (is concerned). It’s somewhat self-inflicted with the games we gave away early.

“This is what we were searching for, more consistency across the board like this. More so than talk about standings, we just want to continue to try and play good basketball.”

–Field Level Media

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