Houston Rockets vs. Utah Jazz Series Preview

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Clint Capela
LOS ANGELES, UNITED STATES - MARCH 2: Clint Capela of Houston Rockets is seen during the NBA match between Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets at Staples Center in Los Angeles, United States on March 2, 2017. (Photo by Mintaha Neslihan Eroglu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Round 2 of the NBA Playoffs is underway and the Houston Rockets are set to face off against the Utah Jazz. In a match-up of opposites, the Jazz hope their defense can help propel them to the next round. On the other side, the Rockets will look to get up as many threes as they can in Mike D’Antoni’s high-powered offense. Rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell has been more than impressive. Mitchell has scored 171 points in first six career playoff games, the third most by a rookie in NBA history behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain. Meanwhile, the Rockets have been inconsistent but have had big offensive quarters that the Minnesota Timberwolves could never recover from. With both teams coming off impressive first-round performances, let’s look deeper into this series.

Houston Rockets vs. Utah Jazz Series Preview

Key Stats

Despite being off from three for most of their first-round series, the Rockets still lead all teams in three-pointers made at 15.0 per game. James Harden is averaging 29 points, 7.4 assists, and 4.8 rebounds per game, along with 2.4 steals and a block. The Rockets are a high-powered offense that can take off at any point. In terms of offensive efficiency, they were second among playoff teams in the first round, even mustering up a 50-point quarter in Game 4. Having Chris Paul next to Harden this time around has proven successful. Paul is averaging 19.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, and 6.6 APG. He’s also been stellar defensively with 2.0 steals per game. While they have been good on offense, the Rockets will need to be even better to get past the stout Jazz defense.

Utah currently ranks third in defensive efficiency among playoff teams. The Jazz did quite a number on the Oklahoma City Thunder in Round 1 and hope to continue that trend. Rudy Gobert led the way defensively, averaging 14 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 2.0 BPG, and 1.17 SPG. Donovan Mitchell has made his mark on the playoffs in dominant fashion. Averaging 28 PPG, he has been the offensive catalyst in times of need for the Jazz. While Mitchell has been beyond impressive, Utah will need to need to play some of its best defense against the Rockets in order to advance.

Gobert vs. Capela

Clint Capela has been the X-factor all season for the Rockets. In this series, he will have his hands full against Rudy Gobert. Gobert has the size and length to keep up with Capela, who likes to run the floor. Gobert is also excellent at guarding the pick-and-roll, which the Rockets run frequently. Capela is no slouch, though, averaging 15.8 PPG, 14.2 RPG, and 2.0 BPG in the post-season. He is very active on the boards and he earns second-chance points for the Rockets. The winner of the rebound battle may have a large impact on the outcome of this series.

Defense Wins Championships…Right?

While impressive on the defensive side of the ball, this will be Utah’s biggest test of the year so far. The Rockets have the ability to explode at any moment with barrages of threes. Harden and Paul see the floor on offense better than most and are threats to attack at any point. The Jazz will have to stop all dribble penetration because they won’t be able to sag off other players to help. Houston’s three-point shooters are simply too good to make that gamble. The Jazz will depend on Joe Ingles and Jae Crowder to help slow down Paul and Harden. If they hope to be successful, Utah will need to keep them out of the paint as much as possible.

Bench Play

The Jazz will need their bench to provide a spark for them in this series. The Rockets have a deep bench including Eric Gordon, Gerald Green, and Ryan Anderson. They can all hit threes in bunches and normally do. In order to match that production, the Jazz will need Alec Burks and Jae Crowder to step up, especially with starting point guard Ricky Rubio out. Without that bench production, it’s going to be hard for Utah to be able to score at the same rate as the Rockets.

Predictions

Both of these teams proved how good they were all season. The Jazz have won most of their games to due to their defense and their young elite scorer, Mitchell. On the other hand, the Rockets hung their hat on the MVP performances of Harden and their three-point shooting. While defensively impressive, it’s unlikely that the Jazz will be able to hold the Rockets in check like they did the Thunder. The only way the Rockets lose is if they go cold for four games, and it’s hard to see that happening.

Final prediction: Rockets in 6

 

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