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Houston Rockets Game Day: Time To Rebound vs Much Improved Jazz

By Tamberlyn Richardson
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Houston Rockets Game Day:

Record: 27-36,  Western: 11,                                               Record: 43-21,  Western: 4,

Northwest: 3rd, last ten 8-2                                                     Southwest: 2nd, last ten 7-3

Houston Rockets vs Utah Jazz

Thu Mar 12, 9:00 PM EST – ROOT, CSNH, RTSW

Energy Solutions Arena – Salt Lake City, UT

Recent Matchups

Jan 11 UTA 82-97 HOU          Oct 30 HOU 104-93 UTA          Mar 18 UTA 86-124 HOU

Dec 3 HOU 103-109 UTA          Nov 3 HOU 104-93 UTA

Latest Results:

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Stats:

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Notably the Jazz have been the best defensive squad since the All-Star Break ranking second in February (97.0) and second in March (92.2) and continue to improve. Sure, they’ve beat teams like the Knicks, Lakers, Sixers, Pistons, Nuggets and Nets but this great stretch of wins  also includes the Spurs, Blazers, Bucks and Grizzlies. With Gobert now starting and getting ample playing time the Jazz have found their identity and offer some excitement for Utah fans who haven’t had much to cheer for in recent years.

Walking Wounded:

Jazz:

All injury updates via Rotoworld

Rockets:

  • Kostas Papanikolaou remains day to day with an ankle sprain
  • Dwight Howard has progressed to running and cutting plus 2 on 2 work  and as per Rotoworld said Tuesday he feels more explosive than he has all season

Bench Mob:

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While Houston has steadily improved their reserve stats the Jazz are currently seeing a rise in their bench stats as well. Much of this has to do with the reassignment of Trey Burke to the bench who has excelled in this role.

Key Match-ups:

The Utah Jazz took many positives from the All-Star break with 3 young players participating in the BBVA Rising Challenge: Rudy Gobert, Trey Burke and Dante Exum. Gobert specifically had such a huge performance he was even considered as a possible MVP.

Since the break the Jazz decided to part ways with high draft pick Enes Kanter (trading him to Oklahoma City) so they could make room to put Gobert in as a starter and give him additional minutes on the court. Subsequently, the Jazz have been stellar defensively appearing to find their identity.

During their 8-2 run the Jazz had been going with a starting five of Dante Exum at the point, two small forwards: Gordon Hayward & Joe Ingles, power forward Derrick Favors and blossoming center Rudy Gobert. However with Hayward suffering from lower back pain they altered the starting five to include Trey Burke  and Elijah Millsap moving Ingles to the bench.

The Jazz are electing to get Exum and Gobert plenty of experience with the hopes of accelerating their learning curve in an effort to build on their success and be better prepared for the start next season. Given the inexperience of the Jazz back court James Harden and Patrick Beverley need to capitalize on their experience and Harden’s scoring prowess.

Obviously  Harden represents the biggest challenge for Portland however I’ve noted he has been more hit and miss since the last week, perhaps a sign of fatigue from carrying such a burden without Howard in the line-up. Considering the only game he’s missed this season was courtesy of the suspension it’s understandable if his body is beginning to tire.He’s compensated by getting more of the team involved however his second half’s and particularly fourth quarters have been anything but Hardenesque. To wit: in the last 4 games- (Memphis, Detroit, Denver and Portland) Harden’s fourth quarter numbers are telling:

He shot 4 of 15 from the field or 26.6%. And while he went to the line 8 times versus Detroit and 4 times versus Denver hitting them all he didn’t go to the line against Memphis or Portland at all in the final frame.

Leaders:

Jazz:

  • Gordon Hayward 19.5 points per game
  • Derrick Favors 8.3 rebounds per game
  • Trey Burke 4.5 assists per game
  • Rudy Gobert 2.3 blocks per game
  • Chris Johnson 1.5 steals per game

Rockets:

 Keys to Winning:

  • Given the stellar defense of the Utah Jazz of late the Rockets will need to bring their A game. Sure the Rockets rank third on the season, however in the month of February they ranked 12th and so far in March they rank 9th. There’s an obvious slippage occurring which once again may be the toll the team is suffering from having to compensate for the absence of Howard. Tonight they’ll need a top effort if they want to return to the winning column.
  • Houston holds a distinct advantage in the pace department ranking third to Utah’s 30th rank. Therefore it will be vital for the Rockets to push the pace from the tip to offset Utah’s burgeoning opponent points per game defense.
  • Another obvious advantage is assists where Houston rank 9th to Utah’s 28th so ball movement and low turnovers should help to keep the Jazz off kilter and make defending more tedious given how much they’ll need to shift to cover ball and player movement.
  •   As per usual the Rockets hold the 3 point shooting advantage ranking first in attempts (33.6) and makes (11.6) to the Jazz’ 17th rank of attempts (20.9) and makes (7.2)
  • A rather interesting anomaly is the Rockets also defend opponent three point shooting the best in the Association allowing opponents to shoot a mere 31.1% behind the arc while the Jazz rank 26th allowing 36.4% from three. March has witnessed improvements in this area for the Jazz (moving to 17th) and a small decline for the Rockets (dropping to third).

The Pick:

The odds makers are obviously impressed with the sudden improvement of the Jazz as they began the day ranking this match as a pick em. In essence that slightly favored Houston given most home teams start with a 1.5 advantage. Given the Jazz were resting yesterday while Houston played, the thin air factor and 8.2 recent record it was understandable. But as of posting the line has changed to favoring Houston by 2.0,  which may be a result of Hayward possibly missing tonight’s game making the Jazz vulnerable especially in the back court.

Houston are still smarting from feeling robbed by last week’s suspension and no call which basically cost them the division lead and second seed, and worse they fell to fourth with the loss to Portland, so they’ll be looking to right the ship tonight versus Utah.

Next: Who won the James head to head MVP battle ?

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