After a shaky start to the 2018-2019 NBA regular season, the Houston Rockets were able to shift gears to turn around their season and finish as the fourth seed in the west. Once again, they are seen as one of the biggest title contenders coming into the playoffs. Their amazing turnaround has caught many team’s attention as they have started to look a lot like last season when they made the conference finals.
They have been longing for a rematch against their biggest rivals, the Golden State Warriors, for a year now, and they finally have their shot at it. Though the expectations have been set high for the Rockets, it won’t be an easy ride for them to get to the rematch they’ve been eager for as they will have to get past the Utah Jazz in the first round.
Houston Rockets vs Utah Jazz Playoffs Preview
2017-2018 Playoffs Rematch
Utah is not unfamiliar territory for the Rockets. They have played each other four times this season, and the season series was tied 2-2 when they dueled it out. Though the Rockets are the favorites to win this series, the Jazz will be playing with a chip on their shoulder.
After being bounced out of the playoffs last year by the Rockets, the Jazz will be looking to get their revenge on them by pulling off an upset in the first round of the playoffs. The last time they faced each other in the playoffs, the Jazz were unable to contain the deadly guard duo of Chris Paul and James Harden, and it felt like Rudy Gobert was a non-factor in the series. Though, this season the Jazz come in with more experience and are ready to battle it out.
James Harden vs Donovan Mitchell
One of the biggest match-ups to keep an eye on in the series will be James Harden vs Donovan Mitchell. Both of these star guards will duel it out in a seven-game series once again. Last year, Harden was able to outplay Mitchell, which allowed the Rockets to slide past the Jazz in the second round.
Mitchell will look to get his revenge back as he has improved heavily from last season. In the season series, Harden averaged 33.5 points per game, 4.8 assists per game and 7.3 rebounds per game. Mitchell in the season series averaged 23.3 points per game, 5.8 assists per game and 5 rebounds per game. In the two games that the Rockets won, Harden scored at least 40 plus in both games. Both teams will rely on their star guards to help them get past the first round of the playoffs.
The X factor in last season’s playoff series between the Jazz and the Rockets seemed to be the play of their star big men. Clint Capela has arguably had the best season of his career this year. In the season series against the Jazz, Capela averaged 9 points and 12 rebounds per game, though he did miss one of the four games. Gobert in the season series against the Rockets averaged 10.5 points and 10 rebounds per game.
Both of these players have shown to be the defensive anchors for their teams. Gobert once again is in the race for Defensive Player of the Year as he has led the Jazz to one of the best defensive teams in the league. Once again, both of these big men will look to be the X factors of the series as both teams will depend on their defensive presence.
With many great first round match-ups in the playoffs this year, this series seems to be one of the best. The stakes are high for both teams as they both feel as if they are serious title contenders. This series has all of the signs to turn out as a long and hard series. Both teams will look to grind this series out as much as possible. Though both teams have great rosters, the Rockets will outplay the Jazz and will beat them in the series 4-2. The Rockets will then advance to the second round to potentially play the Golden State Warriors once again.
Coming into the playoffs, the Rockets just seem to be the superior team. Harden has been incredible this season, and will likely continue to dominate in the playoffs. If Harden is struggling, the Rockets still have at least two guys to lift the offense. Paul is healthy and will be a problem for the Jazz as he can turn it on at any time. Eric Gordon has really turned around his season and is red hot coming into the playoffs.
Capela has been amazing in the pick and roll and will continue to be a big factor for Houston going into the playoffs. Though the Rockets will be top heavy, the talent level of Houston is much greater than Utah’s. The gap between the Jazz and Rockets in terms of talent and experience will be highlighted in this series and will be the biggest reason why the Jazz will lose.
Though the Jazz has had an amazing year, they’re just not good enough to beat Houston in the first round. The Rockets style of play will be too much for the Jazz to handle. Mitchell cannot be the only one scoring for them in this series. They need another great scorer like Mitchell to lift the offense. Also, Gobert will have problems guarding Capela in the pick and roll.
At times he will need to switch on Harden or Paul, and he will have problems keeping up with them. The Rockets will attack Gobert in the pick and roll and will make other players make plays on defense. The lack of offense and the test on defense against the pick and roll of Houston will be the biggest reasons why the Jazz will lose to the Rockets in the first round.
DENVER, CO – NOVEMBER 13: James Harden (13) of the Houston Rockets has words for a referee during the first half against the Denver Nuggets on Monday, November 13, 2018. The Denver Nuggets hosted the Houston Rockets at the Pepsi Center. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images)