Game 1: Houston Rockets (1-0) @ Utah Jazz (0-0)
The 2014 2015 NBA season starts tonight, for reals. The Houston Rockets will finish up a back-to-back set against two of the worst teams from last season with a game against our Utah Jazz. This Jazz team isn't striking fear into anyone right now, but they are likely to put up a much larger fight than the Los Angeles Lakers did last night. On paper it's a team of All-Stars and All-NBA players going up against a bunch of lotto picks that are overshadowed by others from their respective draft classes.
But it's more than that, it's another match-up between the Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz. Since the beginning of time till now the Jazz are up 98-84 in the head to head series, and if you include the playoffs, Utah is up 5-2 in post-season round wins. Sure, they have rings, and are an actual playoff contender right now, they don't have history on their side over the course of this rivalry.
Also, they're going to be playing in Utah, where the Jazz have gone 62-29 in the regular season against Houston.
If you put a lot of stock in statistics, it's obvious that the Rockets are a better team right now because the Jazz have scored zero points. Extrapolating that down to the key players on each team you get this:
|1||Patrick Beverley||PG||31.0||9.7||vs.||Trey Burke||PG||--||--|
|2||James Harden||SG/PF||31.0||39.1||vs.||Alec Burks||SG/PG||--||--|
|3||Trevor Ariza||SF/SG||30.0||19.5||vs.||Gordon Hayward||SF/SG||--||--|
|4||Terrence Jones||PF||31.0||24.1||vs.||Enes Kanter||PF/C||--||--|
|5||Dwight Howard||C||21.0||22.4||vs.||Derrick Favors||C/PF||--||--|
|6||Isaiah Canann||PG||7.0||2.3||vs.||Dante Exum||PG/SG||--||--|
|7||Jason Terry||SG/PG||21.0||11.5||vs.||Ian Clark||SG/PG||--||--|
|8||Kostas Papanikolaou||SF||20.0||9.2||vs.||Rodney Hood||SF/SG||--||--|
|9||Donatas Motiejunas||PF/C||16.0||6.6||vs.||Trevor Booker||PF||--||--|
|10||Tarik Black||C||24.0||0.6||vs.||Rudy Gobert||C||--||--|
|11||Troy Daniels||SG||9.0||-13.1||vs.||Toure' Murry||PG/SG||--||--|
|12||Nick Johnson||SG||--||--||vs.||Joe Ingles||SF/SG||--||--|
|13||Francisco Garcia||SF/SG||--||--||vs.||Jordan Hamilton||SF/PF||--||--|
|14||Joey Dorsey||PF||--||--||vs.||Steve Novak||PF/SF||--||--|
|15||Clint Capela||PF/C||--||--||vs.||Jeremy Evans||PF||--||--|
So, Houston has the advantage against a team we don't have much data for (beyond the fact that they looked quite good in the preseason).
The major match-up to watch for me will be between James Harden and Alec Burks. Last night Harden torched the Lakers by putting up 32 points (3/6 from downtown, 15/16 from the free throw line), 6 assists (0 turn overs), and almost single-handedly undressed their defense. The Jazz have a reputation for fouling, and in his career has gone to the free throw line against Utah over 100 times already. (6.0 times a game, ON AVERAGE) That's not quite Kobe Bryant level, but it's still something that looks to be a problem going forward. We have our own kinda reckless shooting guard in Alec Burks. Alec gets to the line too, and can be a handful to guard when he's feeling it. While Harden is visibly demonstrative, Burks likes to play it cool. Moving forward with only a few hours left before the rookie scale contract extension deadline -- this will be a measuring stick game for Burks' game, and the Jazz brass alike.
Houston has the star power, but I like Utah's bench here. I would give the Jazz the edge when it comes to their bench (even their deep bench, where guys like Steve Novak and Jeremy Evans can be low minute, high impact guys). And the most obvious advantage is that they are at home. But in all reality, Houston is a very strong club, with good players who get the benefit of the doubt and respect from the referees.
If Utah can control the glass, and the pace of play, they'll be able to shock Houston. If the game slows down our boys will not be able to grind one out against their plethora of one-on-one maestros.
Something always gets the blood boiling for me when it's Rockets against the Jazz, though. So you never know what's going to happen.