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2018 NBA Playoffs: Utah Jazz looking to bounce back against the Rockets

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Can the strength of the Utah Jazz team overcome the high powered Houston Rockets?

Utah Jazz v Houston Rockets - Game Two Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

“Our margin for error is not great.”

Quin Snyder was realistic, yet determined in his interview after the Jazz’ practice yesterday. In game four of the second round of the NBA Playoffs, the Utah Jazz are not picked as favorites to win any of the remaining games in the series. For tonight’s game, Houston is a 5.5 point favorite. With a star-studded veteran roster that Jazz fans have become familiar with over the past three games, Houston is the 1 seed in the Western Conference for a reason. Friday showed us that the Jazz are not the only team making adjustments in this series. Mike D’Antoni won the 2017 NBA Coach of the Year Award for a reason.

However, although the odds may be stacked against the Jazz, this is nothing new. Ever since July 4th, 2017, national media has been picking against the Jazz. At first, it seemed as though all the noise was right, as the Jazz started off the season with a 19-28 record after a rough December schedule and an injury to Rudy Gobert. The season was doomed, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the consensus ceiling for the team was the 8th seed, and even that felt like it was pushing it after a tough midseason loss to the Atlanta Hawks. Yet, the Jazz kept plugging away. After going on a historic run to finish the season, the Jazz have been considered by some to be one of the best teams in the league. They proved this to be true when they defeated reigning MVP Russell Westbrook, “Playoff P” Paul George, Steven Adams, and Carmelo Anthony in the first round of the playoffs.

If the Jazz played according to the odds, they would be the 10th seed, watching from home right now. They would certainly not be competing in the second round of the playoffs. As Quin Snyder said, we have a small margin of error, but if we execute our game plan, we can beat the odds like we have all season.


Game Info

When: 6:00PM MT • Sunday May 6, 2018

Where: Vivint Smart Home Arena · Salt Lake City, Utah

TV: TNT

Radio: 1280 AM/97.5 FM The Zone,


Injuries:

Utah Jazz:

Thabo Sefolosha - Knee - Out for season

Ricky Rubio - Hamstring - Upgraded to questionable

Derrick Favors - Ankle - Questionable

Pride - Punch to the gut - Questionable

Houston Rockets:

No one.


What to watch for

“The strength of the team..”

NBA: Playoffs-Houston Rockets at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

It is no secret that Donovan had a bad game on Friday. As Quin addressed in his practice interview, Donovan isn’t the only reason we lost. The team as a whole needs to take responsibility, step up, and be better together. Donovan is a big piece of the puzzle, so how he responds in tonight’s game will be important to the success of the team. While that is true, we also need everybody else to be at the top of their game. Joe Ingles needs to be getting open looks, Rudy Gobert needs to be a defensive juggernaut, Jae Crowder needs to be Mr. Hustle, and role players like Alec Burks and Raul Neto need to be ready for their number to be called. As the team motto goes, “The strength of the team is the team”. Where one player begins to falter, another needs to step up.

Most likely Utah Jazz Killer: James Harden

NBA: Playoffs-Houston Rockets at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

James Harden is in my opinion the third or fourth best player in the world. You may stop him for a night, but there is a reason he is so good. Star players know how to adjust their game to play against certain coverages and defensive schemes. That is what you saw on Friday. He can drive past you with his explosive first step if you play him too closely, he can draw fouls if you play him too physically, and he can nail three-pointers if you take a step back. He is also one of the best players in the league at getting his teammates involved. He is as unselfish a star as they come, even if he uses isolation plays more often than not as a means to that end. Players like Trevor Ariza, Clint Capela and PJ Tucker are allowed to give the Jazz fits because of the gravity and attention demanded by James Harden and Chris Paul.

Keys to a Utah Jazz win

Rudy Gobert anchoring the defense like he normally does

Rudy Gobert and the Jazz defense. Rudy needs to be a defensive general. He needs to keep his head on a swivel, and be aware of what the Rockets are trying to accomplish. Communication is absolutely a key in this game, and Rudy as the defensive leader of the team will need to be in full control. Our guards will need to do a better job of staying in front of the Rockets’ guards as well, allowing Rudy to seal off Clint Capela from alley-oop lobs.

No hiccups with the Utah Jazz offense

The Jazz offense. To put it bluntly, we need the Jazz to put the basketball through the hoop more times than the Rockets. The goal of the game is to have more points than your opponent when the final buzzer goes off. Houston made adjustments in game 3 that threw a wrench into our offense from the very beginning, and we were never able to fully recover. This cannot happen today if the Jazz are going to win. Smart shots, crisp passing, and good decision-making will be absolutely crucial tonight.

We’re going to need one more

X-Factors. This is where the team’s strength comes in. Whether it is Dante Exum, Royce O’Neale, a possible Ricky Rubio sighting (he was upgraded from “out” to “questionable” in the injury report), or somebody else, there are times when one role player can be a major catalyst in fueling a strong 5-8 minute run for the entire team. For example, this happened in game 2 when Dante was able to stop James Harden momentarily, allowing the rest of the team to go on a run. This all depends on the flow of the game, and varies from night to night. Quin Snyder needs to identify in the moment who will give us the best chance of going on a run. These runs get the fans involved, which can cause the situation to snowball in our favor. If the Jazz can generate at least two major surges during tonight’s game, our chances of winning go up dramatically.