Houston Rockets Game Day: Rockets Look to Regain Division Lead


Houston Rockets Game Day:

The Rockets have won two in a row and look to make it three tonight facing the young athletic Utah Jazz who come in on the back end of their back to back series. Utah battled Oklahoma City Friday and led for a good portion of the game before succumbing to super stars Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and newly acquired Dion Waiters who put the game away for OKC late in the fourth.

Entering the Day:

Utah aren’t in the playoff mix however they aren’t a team the Rockets can afford to overlook as they can easily become a trap game for strong teams. They’ve won 7 of their past 12 games. Wednesday they annihilated the Bulls by 20-points in Chicago proving the point these young Jazz can pose a problem for any top team. These by the way are the same Bulls who beat Houston with a late fourth quarter charge on Monday.

While I’ve been frequently posting on my concerns about Dwight Howard and the lack of touches he’s been receiving I noted today one site had him listed as “probable” for the game given a sore knee. That fact didn’t appear on two other sites which has me wondering if Howard is still dealing with recovery from his sore knee and perhaps that’s why we are seeing him beast one game and then provide mediocre stats (for him) the next game.

The Shot of the Year:

Over the course of the season we see circus shots however they tend to be on the back end of a foul; a player driving the paint will be hit and toss the ball up in the hopes of hitting the net. Last night in Oklahoma City, Trevor Booker may have hit the circus shot of the year.

There was 0.2 seconds on the clock and the Thunder defended the inbound play to prevent any action under the bucket.  When Hayward threw the ball in Booker who was standing with his back to the basket barely touched the ball as he directed it over his head. It did look like this was a play he and Booker have worked on based on how they seemed to be timing the play. Afterwards Booker said he does actually work on the shot but never thought he’d be able to use it (let alone successfully) in a game.

Team Rank:

Houston currently rank fourth in the West and second in the Southwest Division with a 25-11 record. Since the Rockets beat Dallas (who sit ahead of them) in their only contest this season they would take over the Division lead and move into third in the West with a win today. NOTE: SINCE THE WRITING OF THIS POST DALLAS LOST TO THE CLIPPERS SO HOUSTON ARE BACK ATOP THE SOUTHWEST DIVISION

Utah are 12 in the West and fourth in the Northwest Division with a 13-24 record.

Offense: Houston: 18th (102.7 points per 100 possessions) – Utah: 14th (104.1 points per 100 possessions)

Defense:  Houston: 2nd (allowing 98.5 points per 100 possessions) – Utah: 27th (allowing 107.0 points per 100 possessions)

Net: Houston: 8th with a positive point differential of +4.2 – Utah: 22nd with a negative point differential of -2.9

Pace: Houston: 7th with a pace of 97.72 possessions over 48 minutes – Utah: 29th with a pace of 92.57 possessions over 48 minutes

Points Per Game: Houston: 13th  –  Utah: 23rd

Rebounds Per Game: Houston: 9th – Utah: 16th

Assists Per Game:  Houston: 23rd – Utah: 24th

Opposition Points Per game: Houston: 4th –  Utah: 15th

Stats via nba.com and hoopsstats.com

Notable Stats:

Three Point Advantage:

  • Houston have a real advantage from behind the arc as they take the most threes (33.8)  make the most threes (11.8) and are third best at defending the three (6.7)

Conversely Utah make far fewer attempts (20.6) make far less (6.9) and rank twelfth in defending from behind the arc (allow 7.5)

Last night facing Oklahoma the Jazz went cold from behind the arc, at one point going 0-9.


Houston had their battles early with injury and bench production suffered as a result. The consistently ranked 30th or 29th in bench production barely getting 20 points a game. In the past 5 games though Houston has started to correct this problem given the addition of Corey Brewer and Josh Smith to the reserves. In this time frame they rank 11th overall and now are scoring closer to 40 points (38.4) per game.

Utah have replaced Houston at the bottom now scoring just 24 points per game (scored an average of 27.6 in past 5 games).

All in the Family:

  • The Jazz recently signed Elijah Millsap to a 10-day contract, Elijah is the younger brother of Atlanta Hawk (and previous Jazz player) Paul Millsap

In and Out of the Paint Battle:

Like many of the Rockets recent opponents Utah are one of the best teams inside the paint. The Jazz rank 8th with 41.8 points scored in the paint. Houston rank 23rd in the paint with 35.8.

Houston conversely excel outside the paint where they rank fifth with a 65.9 points scored outside the paint. The Jazz rank 28th with 54.5 points.

More from Rockets News

Rocket Stats Climbing:

Over the past 5-games the Rockets have been integrating new players and are beginning to recognize a growth in certain areas. Specifically they are climbing the ladder in assists. Over the past 5-games Houston rank 7th with 23.8 assists per game.

The Rockets are the number one team over the past 5-games in steals (11.6 per game).

Meanwhile Utah rank second over the past 5-games in blocks with 8.8 per game, double Houston’s block total in the same period who are only getting 4 per game.

Key Match-up:

Gordon Hayward has been on a terror in his past 3-games scoring 24 vs. Indiana, 18 vs. Chicago and 27 vs. OKC. What stands out though is his inefficiency from behind the arc where his is 1 of 14 in those games. He’s also getting to the line around 7 times a game.

The key will be to force Hayward into being an outside shooter and attempt to push him behind the 3-point line.

The Jazz have some solid in-paint players in Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert and Enes Kanter who will provide paint protection and offer solid competition for rebounds. Kanter may not dress (see below) however the Jazz still have solid interior players who they run the offense through.

Walking Wounded:


  • Joe Ingles turned his ankle Friday. He returned but given ankles tend to get worse the next day/with travel. Given this situation he may not play or if he does it will likely affect his production.
  • Enes Kanter has missed 4-games due to a sprained ankle remains questionable for tonight
  • Rodney Hood is scheduled to return January 13 from a heel injury
  • Alec Burks is out for  the season with a shoulder injury
  • Carrick Felix is out indefinitely with a knee injury


  • Dwight Howard has a sore knee but is listed as probable for tonight (watch his minutes to see how serious this is)
  • Terrence Jones remains out due to nerve damage in his leg
  • Alexey Shved was on the bench dressed versus Knicks, so assume he is capable to go

Keys To Winning:

  • Force Haywood out beyond the 3-point line where possible and try to be disciplined by not sending him to the free throw line
  • The Jazz played a close game in Oklahoma City last night utilizing just 8 players. The Rockets should look to jump on them early and take their will to compete with that effort.
  • The Jazz run their offense through the paint with few outside shooters, so Houston should look to pack the paint (forcing them into outside shots) and be strong in their box out’s under the rim to prevent rebounds.
  • Continue to build on lessons learned in recent wins: establishing Howard inside, increased ball movement, defensive principles

The Pick:

The odds makers are on board with the Rockets win streak selecting the home team to win by 11.5 points. I’m not quite as certain the game will result in quite that much of a blow-out, so I’ll take them to win by 7 points.