This Rockets-Jazz Series May be Different
Maybe this was meant to be, the Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz hooking up in the first round of the
NBA playoffs. It’s not quite what either team wanted. But thanks to a scramble in the last weekend of
the regular season, the Rockets got shuffled down to the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference.
And here we are, with two teams who know each other well, maybe more than they like. They faced off
in the postseason last year, with the Rockets taking the series in five games.
But this series, which opens Sunday night at 8:30 CT in the Toyota Center, could be different. And that’s
not a good thing if you are holding Rockets tickets.
The Improving Jazz
Why different? Well, the Jazz have a bit different look and character this time around. First of all, Coach
Quin Snyder has them more focused on defense this year. They have become the No. 1 rated defensive
team in the West, second ranked in the league.
Much of that defense comes from down under, where Rudy Gobert has been effective. The 7-1 center
has been averaging three blocks per game, as well as nearly 13 rebounds. His presence may keep Chris
Paul from hitting those lane floaters he did in last year’s series.
Also, guard Donovan Mitchell is better this year. You may recall that Mitchell missed Game 5 of last
year’s series, which may have been a key to the outcome. Mitchell has taken a key role in the Jazz’s
improving offense, averaging 23.8 points and over four assists per game.
Then there is a mental factor. Though the Rockets and Jazz were 2-2 in their regular season meetings,
the Rockets – and most everyone else – believe they’ll take this series. And considering that they have
been so focused on getting back at the Golden State Warriors for last year’s loss in seven games, a
“look-ahead” factor may come into play.
Whether this all translates into an early round upset remains to be seen. After all, the Rockets are the
No. 2 rated offensive team in the league, and the Jazz probably don’t have the personnel to chase Paul
AND James Harden around all night.
Plus there is the issue of Clint Capela in the lane and Eric Gordon on the perimeter. Capela is averaging
16.3 points and 12.7 rebounds a game, and Gordon hits 36 percent of his three-pointers.
And all of these guys are healthy, which bodes well for the Rockets going forward. But even when
someone has gone down this season, Harden has been able to take up whatever slack.
The Rockets and their high-strung offense have proven they can blow people out this year, when they
are clicking. I don’t expect blowouts against the Jazz, and I’d be hesitant to predict that Harden will go
off for 50 or so in any of these games. But the Rockets have too much firepower to resist picking them in
the series. Still there should be enough to make things interesting, and well worth the