Who will be the biggest beneficiary of Rubio’s absence?
Diana Allen: I think it only hurts the Jazz and helps the Rockets. I know that is a simple answer but there is no good news for the Jazz with Rubio being out.
Kaleb Searle: Chris Paul. Rubio’s injury leaves the Jazz in a bind at the point guard spot. Either Donovan will be playing a lot of minutes there or Exum and Neto will hold down the fort. If Exum doesn’t perform better than in the OKC series, CP3 is in for some big games.
Andy Bailey: I’m going to say Donovan Mitchell, and I hope that doesn’t come off as a shot at Rubio. It isn’t meant that way. Rubio, especially over the last few months, definitely takes some pressure off Mitchell, but the rookie hits another level of must-see basketball when he’s the primary, secondary, tertiary, quaternary, etc. ballhandler. His 22-point third quarter in the closeout game against the OKC Thunder was awe-inspiring. And on the season, he averaged 23.9 points, 4.3 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 2.9 threes per 36 minutes, with a .549 true shooting percentage, when Rubio was not on the floor. Those are all slight increases over his overall numbers. Obviously, Utah’s in better shape if Rubio is healthy for this series, but Mitchell’s national profile should continue to skyrocket over the next couple weeks.
Tavan Parker: James Harden. Chris Paul was likely to guard Donovan Mitchell either way, so Harden will be much less exposed defensively by guarding Royce O’Neale (assuming he starts), than he would have by pretending to guard Ricky Rubio.
Kristine Jakins: With Rubio out, Joe Ingles will need to step in to a larger leadership role. I don’t think Ingles benefits from Rubio’s absence, but Joe’s presence on the court is essential.
Mychal Lowman: It has to be Royce O’Neale. In the regular season, he started in place of the Spanish Samurai and replaced his energy and defense. In the bench mob unit, I think it’s going to be Alec Burks. Houston’s frenetic offensive pace seems to be the right place to release Utah’s AleKRAKEN and see what happens. Utah is already a heavy underdog in this series, why not?
Outside of Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, who’s the most important Jazz player in this series?
Diana Allen: I am debating between Derrick Favors and Joe Ingles. Joe needs to be on his play makign with the absense of Rubio. He also needs to shoot well so our offense works, we can’t afford to have offensive lapses against Houston like we did against OKC. I originally thought Derrick Favors though, when he is rebounding, running the pick and role with Ingles, and defending well, we always win.
Kaleb Searle: I’m going to go out on a limb here and say Royce O’Neale. Going back to Rubio’s injury, the minutes played by O’Neale will be crucial in covering up the lack of depth at the point guard position. He’ll need to be good on both ends in his minutes.
Andy Bailey: Joe Ingles. Utah is 36-11 in games in which Ingles hit at least three threes this season (playoffs included). And his defense on Chris Paul in the Clippers series last year was crucial. He may be called on to spend some time there again. I can’t imagine the Jazz coaching staff wants to burn Donovan Mitchell out by having him spend a ton of time on Paul and Harden.
Tavan Parker: Derrick Favors. He has been a critical piece for both of the series wins against the Clippers and now the Thunder. The Rockets like to go small, but Derrick Favors may force them to try and match the Jazz length if he keeps playing the way he has recently.
Kristine Jakins: We need to keep counting on Derrick Favors. He’s a good match against Houston’s lineup.
Mychal Lowman: Donovan Mitchell first. But there’s an unheralded understudy that’s about to be pushed into the lineup. Dante Exum. He’s not necessarily Utah’s most important, but he’s going to probably get one shot to prove that he has his confidence back for the playoffs. If Exum doesn’t play well tonight, that probably doesn’t bode well for seeing him again in this series and the playoffs. Utah desperately needs another playmaker off the bench other than Alec Burks and Jae Crowder. They’re looking for a difference maker who can give Donovan Mitchell desperate rest because he’s going to be playing Jimmy Butler type minutes for the next 4-7 games.
What matchup are you most interested in seeing in this series?
Diana Allen: Donovan Mitchell and James Harden. I am so excited to see what our rookie can do against another MVP. I hope Harden doesn’t live at the free throw line. Its an ugly ugly game when that happens.
Kaleb Searle: Donovan Mitchell vs James Harden. It’s really the only answer here. My fear is that Harden Harden-s enough to get the rookie in foul trouble repeatedly.
Andy Bailey: Donovan Mitchell vs. everyone. There’s no secret about Utah’s offense when the system stalls out and someone just needs to go get a bucket. Mitchell is really the only answer at that point. And Houston is likely to throw a bunch of different bodies his way in an effort to keep the Jazz in check.
Tavan Parker: One superstar against another in James Harden and Donovan Mitchell. I think this series will be a great learning experience for Utah’s young star regardless of the outcome.
Kristine Jakins: Mitchell against James Harden. Our team is tough, and it will be interesting to see how they handle Harden.
Mychal Lowman: Donovan Mitchell against anyone. This is going to be some seriously overwhelming odds for Donovan Mitchell. Without Rubio as his wingman for at least 4 games (if the Utah Jazz don’t get swept by that point), the Houston Rockets are going to get to throw anything at Donovan Mitchell without having to worry about retaliation on the perimeter. Donovan Mitchell is going to have an uphill battle every single game. If Utah pushes this series to 6 or 7 games, it will mean Donovan not only had a great series, but a Michael Jordan-esque showing out party.
How can Utah pull off the upset against Houston?
Diana Allen: I think we need to play our best unselfish offense. We need to be moving the ball and making our threes. We need to see Rudy Gobert complete control the paint without getting in foul trouble. We need strong perimeter defense from everyone else
Kaleb Searle: Catch fire from beyond the arc around Favors and Gobert. We saw in the Thunder series that the Wasatch Frontcourt (yeah, I’m running with it) was effective. Granted, Favors won’t have Melo on him this time, but if Utah can target Houston’s weaker defenders in some Joe Ingles pick and rolls and Donovan and company can hit from 3, the big men can feast a little.
Andy Bailey: The Jazz will have to absolutely torch the nets from three-point range. The Rockets averaged 15.4 threes per 100 possessions against the Timberwolves. Utah’s second this postseason, with 11.4 triples per 100 possessions, but that’s still a 12-point gap right from the jump. The Jazz will probably have to manufacture a few more attempts here and there and hit north of 40 percent (in at least four games) to have a chance in this series.
Tavan Parker: Defense, as always. If the Jazz can corral at least one of Chris Paul or James Harden as well as they did Paul George or Russell Westbrook on most nights, then they’ll give themselves a chance to at least be in each game.
Kristine Jakins: The Jazz need to stay out of foul trouble.
Mychal Lowman: Defense first, threes second. Joe Ingles has to have a big series from deep and punish Houston for loading up the paint to stop Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, and Derrick Favors.
What’s your predictions for this series?
Diana Allen: If Rubio was healthy I would say Jazz in 7. Since he is not I worry about our depth and I worry about our offense. Rubio is the one that makes everyone click on that end of the court. If Rubo is out the first four games I have to say unfortunately Rockets in 5. Please please Jazz prove me wrong like you have been all season long.
Kaleb Searle: Rockets in 5.
Andy Bailey: Rockets in 5. I think the energy at home will be enough to propel the Jazz to one win in this series, probably Game 3, but Houston is a juggernaut. It has one of the best backcourts ever assembled and posted the No. 27 Simple Rating System (point differential plus strength of schedule) in NBA history this season.
Tavan Parker: Rockets in 5. Had Rubio been healthy I would have given the Jazz another win.
Kristine Jakins: Jazz in 6... the power of postive thinking, right? ...right?
Mychal Lowman: Rockets in 6. I was wrong on the last series prediction and I pray I’m wrong with this one. I see Donovan Mitchell having two games that are going to show up on his career highlights in order to push this series to 6, but this could be the series where Utah’s miraculous run comes to an end.