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Cavaliers aim to build on positives against Rockets

HOUSTON -- The result was welcome but the process offered more of the inconsistent defensive effort that has plagued the Cleveland Cavaliers throughout the opening weeks of the season.

Cleveland (5-6) mustered the offense to outgun the Milwaukee Bucks 124-119 on Tuesday night at Quicken Loans Arena, yet the victory marked a ninth consecutive game in which it surrendered at least 112 points.

The Cavaliers snapped a three-game home skid but needed a 55.5 effective field goal percentage to do so, with monster efforts from Kevin Love (32 points, 16 rebounds) and LeBron James (30 points, eight rebounds, nine assists) required to offset the Bucks' 56.6 percent shooting, 13 3-pointers, and a 40-point night from Giannis Antetokounmpo.

However, there were some positives within the triumph for the Cavaliers, who will visit the Houston Rockets on Thursday night at Toyota Center. Their 39-point first quarter represented a reversal from a series of slow starts to grease the skids to their run of losses. And, with James and Love on the bench, Cleveland extended its lead during a key stretch to open the fourth.

"We got stops and we made shots," James said. "They had a couple defensive miscues: J.R. (Smith) came off one and hit a 3, D-Wade (Dwyane Wade) hit a pull-up, and Jeff (Green) was able to get to the free-throw line and get two free throws as well. And then we got stops defensively. That was very key."

Those moments of defense might be fleeting. The Cavaliers remain last in the NBA in defensive rating at 112.4 points per 100 possessions, and while offenses throughout the league are thriving, Cleveland won't amount to much if it doesn't improve on the defensive end.

"A 39-point (second) quarter is too much, though," Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said. "If we can get teams to 27-, 28-point quarters, that's a lot better."

The Rockets (8-3) certainly have the capability to shatter any designs the Cavaliers have on defensive development. Behind guard James Harden, who claimed his second Western Conference Player of the Week award on Monday, Houston appears to have found its offense.

With Harden averaging 38.7 points and 11 assists per game, the Rockets put together a modest three-game winning streak while scoring 125 points per game on 51.2 percent shooting, including 42 percent on 3-pointers. And after lamenting their slow start offensively, the Rockets have climbed to fifth in offensive rating (108.4) and 13th in pace (101.2).

Houston has found its footing without guard Chris Paul, who is inching closer to a return having missed the past 10 games with a sore left knee. The Rockets remain uncommitted to a hard date for Paul to rejoin their lineup, but they anticipate another bump once he is back.

"It will be a different team with Chris out there, hopefully better," Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said. "I'm happy with where we are, not content at all. The players aren't. We've blown some games. The first eight games I don't think we played well. The last three we've played well and now we've just got to keep it going and keep improving knowing that there will be times where we slide backwards. But that's part of the season."

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