Last Updated: 2019-04-13
What a difference a game makes. The Houston Rockets looked like they would be the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference on Tuesday. Houston just needed a win over Oklahoma City to lock up the second spot in the West, and it looked like the Rockets would get it after entering the fourth quarter with a 13-point lead.
Instead, Oklahoma City stormed all the way back and a Paul George three with less than two seconds remaining won the game for the Thunder. The loss coupled with Denver and Portland wins on Wednesday moved Houston all the way down to the No. 4 seed. Houston will now have a much tougher match-up as they face the No. 5 seed Utah Jazz.
Houston isn’t that big of a favorite against Utah. Although the Rockets are the team with the third-lowest odds to win the NBA title at +980, they are just a -290 favorite to beat the Jazz in their first round series.
Regular Season Meetings
These teams met four times over the course of the regular season with the Jazz and Rockets splitting the series 2-2. Both sides won a game home and away, but Houston won the last two meetings with James Harden scoring 90 points in those two victories.
Houston Rockets Analysis
It all starts with Harden for Houston. The Rockets’ superstar is going to finish in the top-two of the MVP voting for the fourth time in five seasons, and he won the scoring title by a wide margin this season. His 36.1 PPG were eight more than the next closest player (OKC’s Paul George), and he has even turned himself into a serviceable defender.
Harden has made himself into a triple-double threat. He averaged 6.6 RPG and 7.5 APG in the regular season, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see those numbers go up as his usage rate increases in the playoffs.
Someone else will need to complement him. Clint Capela has been one of the more underrated frontcourt players in the NBA. Capela is Houston’s second-leading scorer with 16.6 PPG, and he is the primary rebounder on the team with 12.7 RPG.
Houston is hoping that Chris Paul can stay healthy after an injury-plagued regular season so he can run the offense and provide a secondary scoring option, as Harden becomes the de facto point guard if CP3 isn’t on the court.
Kenneth Faried has been revitalized since coming to Houston, and that has given the Rockets another big man to depend on aside from Capela. Faried was acquired from Brooklyn at the deadline, and he is averaging 12.9 PPG and 8.2 RPG.
Utah Jazz Analysis
SRS has become one of the most popular metrics to use when gauging teams, and Utah is considered the second-best team in the Western Conference according to this stat. Their 5.28 SRS is slightly higher than the Rockets’ 4.96 SRS, and sharps are likely to jump on the Jazz throughout the series.
The Jazz are the best defensive team in the NBA. They have the best defender in the NBA in Rudy Gobert, and he protects the rim like nobody else. Gobert is averaging 15.9 RPG and 12.9 RPG, but his real value is as a disruptor. He gets in lanes and constantly forces a number of bad shots when perimeter players drive the paint, and Utah plays around that.
Gobert must stay out of foul trouble though. He is the lynchpin to Utah’s defense, and Harden and Paul are experienced veterans that know how to get interior defenders in foul trouble.
Utah’s only consistent scorer is Donovan Mitchell. Mitchell felt like he had to do too much earlier on in the season, and his shooting numbers were abysmal. His numbers have stabilized, but he is not an extremely efficient scorer.
For the Jazz to win this series, a secondary option will need to step up. Joe Ingles, Ricky Rubio, Kyle Korver, and Derrick Favors have all had moments, and one of them needs to be a playoff hero.
When these teams met in the Western Conference Semifinals last season, Houston crushed Utah 4-1. Each of the Rockets’ four wins were by double digits, and Utah didn’t even crack 100 points three times. Gobert was a disaster on both ends of the floor, and Harden and CP3 took turns leading the team.
Houston has been more dependent on Harden this season, and while I think that will hurt in the long run, I don’t see Utah being the team to really punish them. Gobert will have a better series, but Utah’s lack of scoring options will keep them from winning the series. I see Houston winning the series 4-2.
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