Being without their starting point guard is becoming somewhat of an annual tradition for the Utah Jazz. Last year the Utah Jazz lost their starting point guard, George Hill, for the series with a sore toe, while this year the Utah Jazz will be without Ricky Rubio for at least 10 days. That injury is going to loom heavy over today’s Houston Rockets vs Utah Jazz game. The Utah Jazz-Houston Rockets rivalry goes back decades. Luckily for the Utah Jazz, normally it works in the favor of the Utah Jazz.
Without Ricky Rubio, the Utah Jazz are going to be putting even more unreasonable expectations on their rookie Superstar, Donovan Mitchell, than they already have. Donovan Mitchell who became the first player since Kareem Abdul-Jabar to have more than 20+ points in his first six playoff games as a rookie is going to be doing a ton of the heavy lifting as they face a Houston Rockets team that has been easily the NBA’s best team this season. They have been led by a Coach of the Year type performance from Mike D’Antoni who has made this team into Hulk version of his 7 seconds or less basketball philosophy. James Harden and Chris Paul have been the tip of the spear of this potent Houston Rockets attack.
Over the course of the season James Harden has averaged 30.4 points a game while Chris Paul has been able to take the scoring load off his shoulders and average 18.6 points a game. They are the number one offense in the league with an offensive rating of 114.7. This team has also had a big year due to Eric Gordon being a beast from off the bench and the surprising rise of Clint Capela who has a breakout year similar to Rudy Gobert when he broke out onto the scene.
The rise of Clint Capela and his defense has catapulted Houston to the top of the NBA in terms of defense; they possess the league’s 6th rated defense in terms of Defensive Rating. This team also averages the 5th most amount of steals in the league which only adds gasoline to the fire of their raging offense. This team is a buzzsaw.
More worrying for Utah than James Harden, Chris Paul, Eric Gordon, or Clint Capela is Luc Mbah a Moute. The Ekpe Udoh of wing players, Mbah a Moute, who currently is questionable for tonight’s game, is going to give Donovan Mitchell hell during this series. While Donovan Mitchell had been able to take advantage of Paul George, Corey Brewer, and Russell Westbrook in the last series, the competition just got a serious upgrade in terms of defensive prowess in the second round. Mitchell will have to face Mbah a Moute, Trevor Ariza, P.J. Tucker, and Chris Paul. Look for Quin Snyder to go James Harden hunting on offense as the Jazz will attempt to give Donovan Mitchell the best chance to succeed.
James Harden has averaged over 30 points a game against the Utah Jazz, we have to expect that trend to continue in the playoffs. The key for Utah will be to make sure James Harden has little to no help in carrying this offense which is an Infinity War sized problem for Utah under normal circumstances, let alone without their starting point guard.
Utah will be relying on their backup guards Dante Exum, Alec Burks, Royce O’Neale and Raul Neto to spell Ricky Rubio over the course of this series. It’s a big ask for Dante Exum who has spent most of the season out with injury and looks to have his confidence shaken. Even bigger for Alec Burks who has been warming up the end of the bench since January. Raul Neto has stepped up big when he hasn’t been injured this season, but those were in 5 minute bursts. Meanwhile, the one player who will most likely be taken on the responsibility of replacing Rubio’s energy is Royce O’Neale. Royce’s defense and energy could provide Utah with the lift it needs in that starting lineup as Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles will take over the main playmaking responsibilities from Ricky Rubio. All year long Utah has played with the mentality that the strength of the team is the team. That motto will be tested and possibly broken this series if the Jazz can’t get help from their bench.
When: 1:30MT • Sunday April 29th, 2018
Where: Vivint Arena • Salt Lake City, Utah
TV: ABC, AT&T Sports Net - Rocky Mountain
Radio: 1280 AM/97.5 FM The Zone, ESPN Radio
Thabo Sefolosha - Knee - Out for season
Ricky Rubio - Hamstring - Out for 10 days
Luc Mbah a Moute - Shoulder - Upgraded to Active
What to watch for
Who’s the biggest superstar?
We’ve seen Donovan Mitchell be the best player on the court with the reigning MVP Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony sharing that court. Now the ante has been raised as he’ll have to show he’s the best one when he’s under the same roof as James Harden and Chris Paul. Donovan Mitchell has been having his superstar moment in these playoffs and for the Utah Jazz to have a chance at surviving long enough to get their Spanish Samurai back, Mitchell has to have games of brilliance that we haven’t witnessed yet. While we know Utah can defend and bring games to their level, not having Rubio is going to take their offense back a bit. Donovan Mitchell has a tall order ahead of him. Chris Paul and James Harden are a scary combo.
Rudy Gobert vs Clint Capela
Much like the Steven Adams vs Rudy Gobert matchup, this matchup will decide the pace and if Utah’s within striking distance to shock the Rockets at the end of games. If Gobert is losing this matchup, Utah will be unable to overcome the loss of Ricky Rubio and make an offensive push late in games. If Gobert wins this matchup, Utah’s offense may be a wreck, but we will all be saying in the end of the third quarter, “There’s no way Utah should be in this, but here we are in the third quarter only down 4.” This will be a war between giants and is low key one of the most exciting things to be watching for.
Most likely Jazz Killer: James Harden
Do we even have to say it. The guy has been averaging over 30 points against Utah and seems to go off against Utah when he’s at home. Without Ricky Rubio to shoulder some of the defensive burden of guarding him, we all should be worried when Alec Burks, Dante Exum, or Raul Neto gets switched on him. Lord, have mercy.