Game preview: Utah Jazz (15-14) at Houston Rockets (17-14)


Courtney Lee and the Houston Rockets face a big test tonight with Utah, which is on the Rockets' heels for a playoff spot in the West.



WHO: Utah Jazz (15-14) at Houston Rockets (17-14), 6 p.m. CT, tonight. Houston is 11-4 at home. Utah is 3-9. The Rockets are 5-5 in their last 10 games. Utah is 3-7.

The Houston Rockets will welcome an old 90’s rival to the Toyota Center tonight, as the Utah Jazz come to town.

Although there will be no Stockton to Malone, or even Williams to Boozer, there will be a couple of matchups you will want to pay close attention to.

The Jazz are third in their division and 7 1/2 games back of the Oklahoma City Thunder, hovering just above 500. But, like the Rockets, they’re still a tough out. They’re coming off a win against the terrible Washington Wizards, against whom Al Jefferson torched for 34 points and 12 rebounds, while Devin Harris dished out nine assists.

LOOKING AT THE JAZZ: This is the first of three meetings on the year between the Rockets and the Jazz, as both teams will likely be fighting for one of the final playoff spots in the West. Both teams have been up and down all season, but the Jazz big men have been very impressive. Al Jefferson is averaging 19 points, 9.2 rebounds, 2 assists and 1.5 blocks per game in what is easily his best season so far as a member of the Jazz. Rockets center Samuel Dalembert could have a tough time keeping Jefferson’s wide and strong body out of the paint.

The Rockets might even have to throw in rookie center Greg Smith to defend him. Smith, at 6-foot-10, 250 pounds, is a power forward by nature that was just called up from the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

Paul Millsap is also having a good year. His average is down a couple points from the 2011 season, but he’s still a go-to guy on offense next to Jefferson down low. He’s averaging 15.6 points and leads the team with 9.4 rebounds to accompany 2.1 assists per game. Both he and Jefferson have strong assist totals for big men.

LOOKING AT THE ROCKETS: Rockets forward Luis Scola, having a down year, will have to force Millsap away from the rim with his shooting ability. Scola is averaging just 14.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, compared to 18.3 and 8.2, respectively, last season. His matchup against Millsap will be a key one tonight, if not the most crucial.

I will also be looking forward to seeing Patrick Patterson against Derrick Favors, two athletic, young power forwards looking for an opportunity to start in the near future. And how about Greg Smith against Enes Kanter? Two big, young bodies could also battle it out, though one was undrafted and the other was a prized top-3 pick.

WHO WINS?: I think the Rockets win this game in a close one. Their backcourt is much better, in my opinion with Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin, also with Courtney Lee and Goran Dragic energizing the bench. Devin Harris of the Jazz is having a very frustrating year, everything is down and it looks to be his worst year since his rookie year, only averaging less than 10 points and five assists per game. Expect the Rockets guards of Lowry and Martin to have huge nights. I expect both Martin and Lowry to score around 25 points, while Lowry will flirt with a triple double.

Scola should chip in the usual 15 points. I also expect big games from Dragic and Lee. Al Jefferson will have a good game for the Jazz; I see him getting 25 and 10. I expect Millsap to get around his averages.

Follow me on Twitter @Kyle0788