The Houston Rockets have their work cut out for them if they plan on climbing back into the Western Conference playoff picture, but they got off to a good start in their return from the All-Star break.
They’ll have a excellent opportunity to keep it going in Cleveland.
The Rockets continue a three-game stretch against some of the East’s worst teams Wednesday night at Quicken Loans Arena, where the Cavaliers hope the momentum from beating the league’s two-time defending champion hasn’t disappeared after a week off.
Houston (27-31) went into the break with three losses in a four-game homestand, dropping it five games out of the West’s eighth playoff spot. With visits to Detroit and Cleveland followed by a return home to face New Jersey, though, the Rockets couldn’t have asked for a better start to the second half.
They were far from great Tuesday against the Pistons, getting just 49 points from their starting five, but Patrick Patterson(notes) stepped up. The rookie put Houston ahead for good at 95-94 with a tip-in, scoring nine of his season-high 20 in the final 3:53 to help seal a 108-100 win.
“It’s important because we have seven out of nine on the road to start after the All-Star break,” coach Rick Adelman said. “If we want to get back in this thing, we have to win on the road. Winning this game was very important to us.”
Cleveland finally snapped its NBA-record 26-game losing streak Feb. 11 against the Los Angeles Clippers, then seemed to be returning to business as usual with a 115-100 loss to Washington two nights later.
But the Cavaliers delivered perhaps their most impressive performance of the season last Wednesday. Ramon Sessions(notes) scored a season-high 32 points and Cleveland’s typically dreadful defense held Kobe Bryant(notes) to 8 of 24 shooting in a stunning 104-99 win over the Lakers.
“It means a great deal,” coach Byron Scott said after the Cavaliers avenged their earlier 55-point loss to the Lakers. “First thing that it means is that within the last month we have improved as a basketball team.”
Sessions’ impressive effort off the bench came after starter Mo Williams(notes) injured his right ankle early in the first quarter, an injury that kept him out of practice Monday and Tuesday and has him questionable to face the Rockets.
The possibility of Sessions starting - as he did from Jan. 19-Feb. 11 with Williams injured - shouldn’t concern Cleveland. He’s averaged 19.6 points, 8.9 assists and 2.0 steals in February while shooting 58.6 percent.
Regardless of who’s in the backcourt, the biggest concern Wednesday should be figuring out a way to slow Martin, who’s always been a tough cover for the Cavaliers. Martin has scored at least 30 points in each of his last four games against Cleveland - the first three of which came with Sacramento.
Martin, though, has averaged just 13.8 points and shot 32.0 percent in his last four games. The Rockets are 5-13 when he scores 19 points or fewer.