Two games is obviously not enough time to fully assess a team, but there have been similarities with the Houston Rockets and the Utah Jazz for their first two. Both have been high-turnover, high-rebounding teams with a large emphasis on having two legitimate big men. If the Rockets were to win in Utah on the tail end of a back-to-back, Dwight Howard and Omer Asik would have to stop Utah’s future big men in Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors and win the rebounding battle, while the team in general would have to keep the turnovers down.
For the first half of this game, Houston utterly failed to do so. In fact, they utterly failed to play anything resembling basketball at the level of a supposed championship contender. The offense did not move at all. No screens were set. Houston made a grand total of 2 field goals outside the paint in the first half, both by Chandler Parsons. Kanter in particular had his way on the boards, as he repeatedly overpowered Asik to grab 4 offensive rebounds in the first quarter, and Favors-Kanter outrebounded Howard-Asik by 11 to 6 in the first half. And most embarrassingly in the most embarrassing half of this young season, the turnover problem, which was bad enough in the earlier two games against Charlotte and Dallas, became even worse. After averaging 20 turnovers per game, Houston had 13 turnovers in the first half, and at one point in the first quarter turned it over on four straight possessions. Utah ended the half leading 56-40.
But in the second half, the Rockets finally woke up. They stormed out of the gate on a 19-4 run, and from there Houston actually executed well enough so that their superior talent could just overwhelm Utah. James Harden, Jeremy Lin, and Francisco Garcia all got together to score from the wings, and Houston fixed their earlier problems. Howard and Asik outrebounded Kanter and Favors 13-3 in the second half, and Houston only turned the ball over five times. The game remained close for a while, as Jazz players John Lucas III, old Rocket stand-in Mike Harris, and Gordon Hayward all contributed points and fouls, but Houston finally broke the game open late in the fourth quarter and complete the rally.
- A special shout out to Chandler Parsons, who bounced back in a big way after struggling in his first two games. Parsons was the only Rocket who played well in the disastrous first half, scoring 20 of Houston’s 40 points on 7-9 shooting. He also finally hit two 3-pointers after missing eight total in the first two games, but it is clear that this cold spell has affected his game. Parsons pump faked at the 3 point line far more often than usual, which initially allowed him to drive and finish as Utah’s defenders repeatedly fell for it. However, as Utah adjusted, he quieted down, though he still managed to contribute with his usual all-around effort, picking up 12 rebounds and 6 assists.
- Dwight Howard managed to go 7 for 10 from the foul line. Amusingly, James Harden also ended up 7 for 10 from the line as well.
- Due to the Casspi injury, Kevin McHale did send out Terrence Jones for a total of 7 minutes. Jones shot a very nice floater which he finished with his non-dominant right hand, but he also displayed some noticeable defensive lapses. One moment occurred during the second quarter, where Jones was so behind chasing Kanter that Kanter did not react to have a wide-open opportunity to score, apparently assuming that there should be a defender between himself and the basket. Jones used his athleticism to catch up from said lapse and knocked the ball out of Kanter’s hands, but tonight’s game and plays like that showed both why fans are so eager to see Jones play and yet also why McHale does not seem to share said enthusiasm.
- I believe I’ve written before that I view Favors as Nicolas Batum’s heir to the “prospect most overvalued by his team or his team’s fans” throne, but Kanter really was something tonight. As mentioned above, Kanter did a number on Asik during the first half on the boards, and he displayed a real offensive skillset against both of Houston’s great defensive centers. 16 points and 8 rebounds against Howard-Asik is nothing to sneeze at. I’m admittedly skeptical about whether Favors and Kanter can really create a championship duo, but it remains interesting to watch for now and the future.