The Utah Jazz (5-4) head out over to the Toyota Center to face the Houston Rockets (7-3) tonight in a clash of competing basketball styles - strong defensive pressure versus run-and-gun jump shooting. The Jazz are yet to win one on the road, but won the season series (2-1) last year, with one win in Houston. Notably, two of the Rocket’s 3 losses have come at the hands of the Grizzlies, whose grit-and-grind style is something that the Jazz also take to heart.
The Jazz and the Rockets have been rivals throughout the years, with many matchups in the playoffs throughout the Stockton and Malone days (including The Shot), but as a more recent Jazz fan, my memory of the Rockets will forever be tied with this glorious sequence:
All in all, this should be a fun and competitive game, folks.
When: Sunday, November 5, 5pm MDT
Where: Toyota Center, Houston, TX
TV: ATT SportsNet Rocky Mountain, ATT SportsNet Southwest
Radio: 1280 and 97.5 The Zone
Joe Johnson (Right wrist) F - OUT
Dante Exum (Left shoulder) G -OUT
Chris Paul (knee) G - OUT
What To Watch For:
Clint Capela: An up and coming young center
Clint Capela is quickly becoming one of the NBA’s top young centers, averaging 13.2 points and 10.9 rebounds per game and 69.0% shooting (tops in the NBA) this season. A late first round pick out of Switzerland in the 2014 draft, Capela’s rise has paralleled that of our very own Gobert - playing very little his first year, stuck behind a malcontent center before outplaying them and starting games in the latter half of their sophomore seasons. Capela is not quite the defensive linebacker that Gobert is, but this matchup will definitely be one to look out for.
Ricky Rubio: Which Rubio will we get?
Much ado has been written about Ricky and his newfound scoring ability, but the Rubio in wins and the Rubio in losses has looked quite significantly different. In wins, Ricky is averaging 19.2 points on 44.1% shooting (41.2% from 3) and only 5.2 assists, whereas in losses he’s averaging 14.3 points on 38.3% shooting (15.4% from 3) and 7.3 assists. While he’ll be tasked with the arduous job of guarding James Harden (more on that later), we’ll need Ricky to be aggressive and confident in his shot in order to pull this one out.
Much has also been written the Jazz’s problem with turnovers. Ricky is a career high 4.3 turnovers a game (2.8 career average), and the team now is averaging 17.8 turnovers per game, 2nd to last in the league. Despite the presence of single-seaon turnover record holder Harden (4.9 turnovers/game), the Rockets are actually middle of the pack at 16.0 per game, so the Jazz will need to turn up their defense and reduce their own miscues.
Most Likely Jazz-Killer: James Harden
With jazz-killers Chris Paul sidelined and Lou Williams now in Los Angeles, Harden is definitely the biggest threat on the Rockets roster. Last season’s MVP-runner up returns in the same position he played in last year and with the same supporting cast around him. In three games against the Jazz last season, Harden averaged 30.7 points and 7.7 assists on 2.3 turnovers (season average: 29.1 points, 11.2 assists, 5.7 turnovers), but on 40.6% shooting, 25.0% from three. The Jazz have gotten many better perimeter defenders, so the focus should be on forcing Harden into turning the ball over more, getting it out of his hands, and trying to force the likes of Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson try to create offense themselves. Hopefully, the Jazz defense can make Harden look a little more something like this: