The Utah Jazz (14-16) take on the Houston Rockets (14-14) for the third time on the season. The Jazz took the first two meetings, one in Houston on October 25th (without Chris Paul) and one in Utah on December 6th, and both wins were pretty good. Donovan Mitchell had his first great game of the season in the former, scoring 38 points with 7 assists and 5 rebounds. In the latter, well, Rudy got ejected within two minutes, while Derrick Favors stepped it up with 24 points and 10 rebounds off of the bench as the Jazz blew the Rockets out (118-91). With a win tonight, the Jazz clinch the tie-breaker over the Rockets, which may be quite important in this incredibly crowded NBA western conference.
The two teams have both been struggling in general – Houston is 11th and Utah is 13th in the standings – but Houston has started to figure it out a bit – they’re 14 and 9 with Chris Paul and winners of their last three straight against the Grizzlies, Lakers, and Trail Blazers. The Rockets definitely don’t have the mojo they did last year as they clinched the No. 1 seed for the first time in franchise history and led the league in wins, but they can still be a very dangerous squad.
When: 6:00 PM MT • Monday, Dec. 17, 2018
National TV: NBA TV
Where: Toyota Center • Houston, TX
TV: NBA TV, AT&T SportsNet-Rocky Mountain, AT&T SportsNet-Southwest
Radio: 1280AM/97.5 FM The Zone, 790 AM
James Ennis — Right Hamstring Strain — OUT
Marquese Chriss — Ankle — QUESTIONABLE
Carmelo Anthony — Old Age — OUT FOR SEASON
What to watch for
Joe Ingles came out of the gate super hot - 14.4 points with 40.4% 3PT% in October. His scoring has gone way down, though, averaging only 10.1 points in December and 37.5% from three. The self-proclaimed best shooter in the league averaged a near league-leading 44.0%, and recently passed Bryon Russell for the third most three-point makes in Jazz franchise history.
Let’s hope Joe can get back to his early season form against the Rockets.
James Harden, and the Not-James Harden Houston Guards
James Harden has been sensational in Houston’s threewins last week, averaging 37 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 8.3 assists with the NBA’s tenth ever (4th career) 50 point triple double against the Lakers, and another 37 point one against the Grizzlies, taking 32 shots from the foul line in the process (and making 29 of them). Even though it’s impossible to like the guy, it’s hard to argue that he isn’t carrying the Rockets right now.
As good as Harden was, the same cannot be said for Chris Paul, who’s getting 11.7 points on 25% shooting from the field. While he also got a triple double against the Blazers in their win, it’s clear that Chris Paul isn’t quite who he used to be. His production is not worth $35.4 million this year, and his four year, $160 million deal looks more bleak in comparison.
Eric Gordon has been moved to the starting lineup with James Ennis out, but has struggled deeply from deep - shooting a frigid 20% in December and shocking 5.9% (1 for 17) in their last three games.
Interestingly, the seemingly best bell-weather for the Rockets’ success is Gerald Green, who averages 9.4 points on 50.6% shooting in wins and 5.7 points on 32.9% in losses. In games he’s played, the Rockets has won 8 of 11 games where he shoots over 33% from 3, and lost 9 of 12 games when he shoots less than 33% from 3.
This goes to exemplify the “live-by-the-three, die-by-the-three” gameplan that the Rockets has, and their dependence on role players to open up space for the team. Look for both teams to regress to their means - but will that be their current season averages, or last year’s season’s averages?