The Rockets travel to Utah, where both teams will play the second game of a back-to-back.
The Winless Jazz
One of the most interesting stories at the trading deadline last year was the Jazz keeping their soon-to-be free agents Al Jefferson (who signed with the the Bobcats) and Paul Millsap (who signed with the Hawks). What were the Jazz thinking when they let two of their biggest scorers and their inside presence go for nothing, not even draft picks?
These non-moves showed the Jazz are looking to the future. It’s a year of rebuilding, getting their younger and cheaper players some experience and signed for the long term. The youth looks promising, but not for this year. The only vets on the team now are Richard Jefferson, 33, who is signed for $11M+ this year, John Lucas III and Jamaal Tinsley.
The over under in Vegas is for the Jazz winning 25 games this year, and I predict they will win more than that. As this team will continue to fall down the West this year, the Rockets will ascend. The Jazz look to remain competitive at home and not so much on the road.
The Rockets are stronger than the Jazz at almost every position and they should dominate the paint. Howard is averaging 21 boards and Asik 13, which is a really tough matchup for most teams. The Jazz did have three players in double digits in rebounding against the Suns, but watching the inside with Howard and Asik bodes well for the Rockets against teams like the Jazz.
Power Forward Derrick Favors will be the biggest match-up challenge for the Rockets. It will be interesting to watch Howard guard him at the beginning of the game, and then watch Houston’s small ball play defense against the 6’10” Favors.
Our guards are faster, draw more fouls and score more than the Jazz. Harden and Lin are both off to solid starts. I disagree with Forrest Walker in ESPN’s Dime, where he named Brooks the LVP of game one. He said Brooks “failed to justify his place on the roster.” When Brooks is on, he facilitates the pace we excelled in last year. His speed can still break down defenses and make for easy buckets for Howard. If Brooks can keep hitting the three and stay away from the turnovers, he’ll be a big plus. We lose some defense with Brooks, but with Howard and Asik in the middle the guards can get away with more this year. And Beverly has added a serious defensive upgrade at the point.
Gordon Hayward, the 9th player selected in the 2010 draft, is a really exciting player to watch. He can create his own shots and in his fourth season, is a team leader. But is he ready to be the playmaker in crunch time? In their home opener, the Jazz were in the game late against the Thunder with a chance to tie on the last shot, but Hayward missed the final three.
The Undefeated Rockets
The Rockets have to be careful with their turnovers. With 40 in their first two games they looked sloppy, and in close games or against better teams, that will be a difference-maker. They’ll make up for turnovers with rebounding advantages against most teams and it should be much the same against the Jazz.
The Rockets will lose some games when the three ball is not falling, but since we have so many players to get their shots going, we’ll be able to play whoever is hot. The small ball offense will most often make up for the team’s vulnerabilities on defense. We’ve got Casspi, Harden, Lin, Garcia, Parsons, Beverley and Brooks launching, so there is a good chance one or more of these players will get going every night. Garcia was on fire against the Bobcats, Casspi and Harden excelled against the Mavs. But Parsons is struggling with his shot early this season.
Already the Rockets are dealing with injuries. Beverley is out for a couple of weeks with a torn muscle in his midsection and Casspi rolled his ankle against the Mavs. The end of the bench will see more meaningful minutes in the next few games.
If this team can watch their turnovers, shoot the three ball well and stay healthy, they can stay with the elite teams. No game in the NBA is an easy win and the Rockets will play tonight in a historically tough arena. But it will be these types of games, on the road, against teams they should beat, that will create streaks, confidence, and positive playoff seeding.