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Houston Rockets vs. Cleveland Cavaliers game preview

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The Rockets welcome LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to Houston.

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

There are games that you circle on the calendar every year.

The champs come to town? Circle it.

Divisional opponents are coming? Circled.

Most recent team to beat you in the playoffs? Circle all 4.

LeBron's one appearance in your city? Get the sharpie.

Even the most casual of NBA observers know the Cleveland Cavaliers. Despite being the 48th largest city in America, Cleveland is a major focus of the basketball world. They have the best player on the planet, who might be the most polarizing athlete in all of sports (though admittedly not as much anymore).

They're starved for a title. The city hasn't had one since 1964 when the Cleveland Browns won the NFL Championship (this was before the Super Bowl). Yet when you have the undisputed best player in a sport you get some deserved attention.

If I asked you who the best NFL player is, I would get tons of different responses. Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Tom Brady, and J.J. Watt would certainly be choices.

Baseball also has a few great players, but none that rise above the others. Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Clayton Kershaw would probably get thrown around, plus a few others.

In basketball, there is a right answer. It's LeBron. While Steph Curry gets all the Vines and attention from a media hell-bent on shoving him down our throats, LeBron James continues to dominate every basketball game in which he is involved. There is no better player. There is no other dominant athlete on his level. He is synonymous with the NBA. And he deserves to be.

So you can bet the Rockets will be ready for tonight.

Tip off is at 8:30pm CST on ESPN.

Matchups:

Point Guard: Patrick Beverley vs. Kyrie Irving

Tonight will mark Kyrie's 12th game back from injury. Irving's numbers are obviously down from previous seasons so far but it would certainly be unfair to criticize him for that this early after an injury.

Houston will be lucky if Irving still hasn't found his shooting stroke. Last night against the Spurs he went 6-17. Last season in San Antonio he dropped 57 points on the Spurs.

The Rockets will hopefully have Patrick Beverley returning from a personal absence in order to defend Kyrie. Last season Houston beat the Cavs sans LeBron in Cleveland but had their hands full guarding Irving. He single-handedly kept the Cavs in the game and Houston only pulled away late because Irving started shooting like a mortal again.

Advantage: Cavaliers

Shooting Guard: James Harden vs. J.R. Smith

Smith is averaging 20 points a game over his last 6 contests on 53% overall shooting to go along with 50% from distance. The guy is truly shooting the lights out of the ball and if he gets open looks against Houston he's going to make the Rockets pay.

For James Harden, the Cavs will throw a combination of Smith, Jefferson, Shumpert, and LeBron at him. Harden will have to break out of his recent 3-point shooting slump if Houston is going to have a chance. As it stands, Harden will have his hands full just guarding Smith on the other end of the court.

This game will start and end with Harden for Houston. Harden generally takes these games seriously when he

Advantage: Rockets

Small Forward: Trevor Ariza vs. LeBron James

There's little I can tell you about LeBron that you don't already know. The Cavs have talent to win games without him going off, but when he plays well they can beat anyone.

For the Rockets, they will likely keep Ariza on James as much as possible and then let Corey Brewer take him for a few minutes here and there to give Ariza some time to breathe.

Advantage: Cavaliers

Power Forward: Clint Capela vs. Kevin Love

Huge test for Capela again tonight, which is something I feel like I say a lot. Capela and T-Jones will have to be rangy tonight to stay with Love on the perimeter but also have to be aware that Love can post up and move inside if the game dictates it.

Love is shooting 36% from 3 this season and averaging his customary double-double. To put this in perspective, only 8 times in NBA history has a player averaged 10p/10r with a 3-point percentage over 35% (minimum average of 2 attempts per game). Kevin Love is responsible for four of them.

Advantage: Cavaliers

Center: Dwight Howard vs. Tristan Thompson

Absolutely the matchup that the Rockets need to win tonight is this one. Dwight should abuse anyone on the Cavs besides Mozgov. Cleveland's bigs were allowed to play a little rough with the Spurs and Thompson finished with 18/14 on 7-11 shooting.

Dwight will try to extend his double-double streak tonight. He's at 7 and will need to rebound like a maniac to compete with Thompson, who makes his living by grabbing up every loose ball off the rim. If Howard out-rebounds TT then the Rockets will be in prime position to get the W.

Advantage: Rockets

Bench

Rockets: Ty LawsonJason TerryMarcus ThorntonCorey BrewerTerrence Jones

Cavaliers: Richard Jefferson, Timofey Mozgov, Matthew Dellavedova, Iman Shumpert

Advantage: Cavs

Prediction: Cavs come in pissed about their loss last night, win 108-104.

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