Kyrie Irving

The Cleveland Cavaliers beating the Houston Rockets 91-77 with some fantastic defense while Kyrie Irving took the lead on offense shows just how it easy it is for them and for LeBron James to do everything else when the All-Star point guard isn’t struggling to put the ball in the net.

Irving scored 23 points a night after a rough shooting display against the San Antonio Spurs, “helping” the Cavs lose 99-95 to the Spurs. They capped off a six-game road trip with a ninth win in 10 games, and plenty of reasons to feel confident about their big showdown with the Golden State Warriors on Monday, hoping not just to avenge their Christmas loss to the NBA champions, but also show they can learn from the mistakes of that close loss and from the one to the Spurs.

Being ultra aggressive defensively isn’t exactly a revolutionary way to get wins, but it almost always works. The Cavaliers forced 18 turnovers, as Matthew Dellavedova and Iman Shumpert played some fantastic, pressing, leech-like defense during their minutes off the bench, while Kevin Love finally made some defensive impact, often a sore and weak point for him in big games. He had 3 steals and the Cavaliers also finished with six blocks, getting a couple from LeBron James, finishing with 19 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists while hitting 50% of his shots.

James didn’t try and do too much, taking just 14 of them. When Irving is on a roll, scoring 23 points on 9-of-17 from the field, it opens up so much for the Cavaliers, and especially gives James the option of not trying to carry this team on his back. He gets more space, and he lets his focus be more on getting the ball to other players instead of trying to score on his own, something that he finds more difficult on some nights, even if his per minute scoring numbers remain just like during his best seasons.

The win over the Rockets prevents the slight collapse we saw from the Cavaliers after the loss against the Warriors. No mental breakdown or fatigue less than 24 hours after losing to the Spurs. It seems the Cavaliers are much more focused, healthy and stern, even with malfunctioning parts in their team like Timofey Mozgov and Love some of the time. No trade rumors about him, but we might hear more and more of them around mid February.

The Cavaliers won shooting 39.1% from the field thanks to their defense which we mention again and their ability to dominate the boards with 17 offensive rebounds. The Rockets looked anemic, which isn’t new to them, often folding when seeing a challenge that’s too difficult for them early in the game, the sign of a team that’s not going far in the playoffs this season, if they even make it. It was the first time after six consecutive losses Cleveland managed to pick up a win against Houston. It’s the franchise’s first win in Houston since March 26, 2006 as they head home to play five of their next six games, not playing a home game in almost two weeks.

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