Jan 8, 2023; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell (45) shoots over Phoenix Suns forward Mikal Bridges (25) during the second half at Footprint Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

PREVIEW: Cavaliers at Rockets- Jan. 26

The Rockets will try to bounce back from Wednesday’s disappointing loss against the Wizards when they host the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night. Wednesday’s defeat was the Rockets’ 19th in the last 21 games, and they are 1-6 on the second night of a back-to-back.

Eye on the Cavs

Record: 29-20 (5th in Eastern Conference)

Offensive rating (rank): 114.2 (11th)

Defensive rating (rank): 109.8 (T-1st)

The Cavs will arrive at Toyota Center having lost 3-of-4 but remain in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff picture under former Rockets interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff. Donovan Mitchell returned to the floor on Tuesday night in New York after missing three games with a groin strain, but he is listed as questionable to play against the Rockets. In his first year in Cleveland, Mitchell is averaging 28.3 points per game, while fellow All-Star Darius Garland is putting up 22 points and eight assists each night. Cleveland plays at the league’s slowest pace, and the only two teams rebound opponent misses at a higher rate than the Cavs.

Matchup to watch: Jalen Green vs. Evan Mobley

They are unlikely to be matched up against one another very often, but Thursday’s game features the second pick of the 2021 draft in Green and the third pick in Mobley. Despite playing different positions and playing different roles for their team, the two will always be compared to one another. Mobley’s scoring average is exactly where it was last season at 15 points per game, but his field goal percentage is up to 56.5% from 50.8% a season ago. Mobley is playing at an elite level on the defensive end of the floor, which is what made him so appealing when he was going through the draft process 18 months ago, and with Mitchell and Garland, the Cavs aren’t as reliant on Mobley to score as the Rockets are with Green.

What I’m watching for

The Cavs have one of the NBA’s most lethal pick-and-roll attacks, while no team is worse than the Rockets at defending the pick-and-roll. Only six players run more pick and rolls than Mitchell, and the Cavs are scoring 1.15 points per possession on those plays. Only Stephen Curry and DeMar DeRozan are better among players who average more than five per game, Mitchell runs 10. Garland hasn’t been quite as devastating as Mitchell, but he runs nine pick-and-rolls per game and is in the 70th percentile in points per possession. This will be a big challenge for Alperen Sengun, whose pick-and-roll defense drew the ire of head coach Stephen Silas earlier this week.

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