The Houston Rockets are brimming with confidence after two impressive wins without top scorer James Harden.
If Harden doesn’t return Saturday night, the featured matchup figures to be Jeremy Lin going up against Kyrie Irving.
Lin and the Rockets will be looking to improve to 10-0 at home against Eastern Conference foes as they meet Irving’s Cavaliers.
Houston (31-17) won 97-90 at home over San Antonio on Tuesday and 117-115 at Dallas the next night. The victories followed back-to-back losses to Memphis and came without Harden, out with an injured left thumb.
"Yes, these wins are huge for us," forward Chandler Parsons said. "Those were two big games for us, especially after losing two to Memphis, it was important for us to get these two."
Harden averages 23.7 points. Lin took his place in the starting lineup and turned in back-to-back 18-point efforts while totaling 15 assists.
"I just tried to be aggressive all the time," Lin said. "Sometimes it’s there, sometimes it’s not. It’s my job and my role to push pace and initiate."
That’s the same style of play favored by Irving, who will try to help Cleveland (16-30) end a six-game slide in Houston in his first NBA game in the city. Irving has averaged 23.7 points during the Cavaliers’ three-game slide, and on Thursday put to rest rumors that he wants out of town.
”I’m still in my rookie contract and I’m happy to be here and I’m pretty sure that I’m going to be here for a long time,” Irving said. ”I’m not saying anything to foretell the future, but I’m pretty sure the relationship I have with (owner) Dan Gilbert and management extends off the court and I enjoy being here.”
Lin had 20 points and Irving scored 30 but had eight turnovers the last time these teams met, a 112-104 Houston road victory Jan. 5, 2013. Irving did not play in the Rockets’ 116-78 rout March 22.
The only other time these guards faced off was Feb. 29, 2012. Lin had 19 points and 13 assists in New York’s 120-103 win over Cleveland, with Irving finishing with 22 and seven.
The Cavaliers will be tasked with slowing down the hard-working Parsons, who travels an average of 2.8 miles per game to lead the NBA entering play Friday. Parsons, who scored 26 against the Mavericks, is among the league leaders in minutes with 38.3 a contest and has exceeded 42 four times in the past nine games.
Anderson Varejao has missed the last two games with a knee injury and his absence would likely hurt against Dwight Howard, who has averaged 20.7 points and 16.8 rebounds in his last six versus Cleveland.
Rookie Dion Waiters has turned in back-to-back 21-point efforts for the Cavs, who lost 117-86 at New York on Thursday.
Cleveland fell to 4-7 since Luol Deng made his Cavs debut Jan. 10, and he was critical of the team’s effort.
"You have to fight," Deng said. "It is one thing to play hard and lose and it is another thing to let the other team do what they want. As a person and as a man you have to stand up and play your heart out."
Houston forward Omri Casspi will face Cleveland for the first time since leaving the Cavs to join the Rockets as a free agent July 12.