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Rockets-Cavaliers Preview

Dec 27, 2009 - 5:15 AM By SANTOSH VENKATARAMAN STATS Senior Writer

Houston (17-12) at Cleveland (23-8), 6:00 p.m. EDT

The Cleveland Cavaliers may not want to say it, but they proved why they are one of the elite teams on a big Western Conference road swing.

They'll be back home Sunday night looking for a 10th straight win at Quicken Loans Arena when they take on a Houston Rockets team that has given LeBron James and the Cavaliers trouble over the years.

Cleveland (23-8) opened a four-game road trip last Sunday with a 102-95 loss at Dallas before winning the final three games. The Cavaliers handed Phoenix its first home loss and beat Sacramento in overtime before Friday's impressive 102-87 win over the defending champion Lakers.

"It wasn't about sending a message to them," said James, who had 26 points and nine assists. "It was about sending a message to ourselves and seeing how we match up with the best team in the NBA at this point. It was a good road win for us. I think it ranks up there, just because of the caliber of the team and the caliber of the players they have."

The Cavaliers moved past Orlando for the second-best record in the East, but did not place any special significance on beating the powerful Lakers.

"We know that we can match up well with anybody," center Shaquille O'Neal said. "I felt that it was going to be a good test for us."

Cleveland hasn't matched up well with Houston, losing 10 of 13 meetings since James was drafted in 2003. James' 23.4 scoring average and 40.9 shooting percentage against the Rockets are his second-lowest figures against any opponent.

Houston (18-12) was able to limit James and O'Neal in a 95-85 home victory Dec. 9. James missed 13 of 21 shots for 27 points while being guarded primarily by defensive stopper Shane Battier and O'Neal missed 6 of 8 shots for seven points and drew a technical foul.

"No one guy is going to stop LeBron, and no one guy is going to stop Shaq," said Battier after the game. "But our guys did a great job of building a wall behind LeBron and just by being there, they deterred some of the drives. We played really good help-side defense."

Cleveland's Mo Williams also had a poor game against Houston with seven points on 2-of-10 shooting. Williams, though, is averaging 26.3 points in his last three games after he scored eight in the loss at Dallas.

The Cavaliers haven't lost at home since an 86-85 defeat to Chicago on Nov. 5.

The Rockets are trying to finish a three-game trip with a winning record. They lost in Orlando on Wednesday and won 98-93 at New Jersey on Saturday.

Reserve Carl Landry scored 26 points and Aaron Brooks had 17, including the go-ahead layup with 37 seconds left Saturday.

"It is not about height or size," Landry said. "It's about heart, courage and toughness."

The Rockets won't have Tracy McGrady on Sunday. He was not with the team Saturday, and the club gave permission for the seven-time All-Star to return home.

McGrady has played sparingly in six games this season following microfracture surgery on his left knee.