After an unexpectedly emotional win over the Atlanta Hawks last night, the Utah Jazz (30-23) are back again a day later facing a Western Conference foe. The Houston Rockets (29-22) are in town after suffering a one sided loss to the Denver Nuggets. Houston is on the second game of a four game road trip that has them playing way above sea level in Denver and Salt Lake City.
Much of the headline last night was how would Rudy Gobert respond to his All Star snub? The answer? Forcefully. Despite fighting foul trouble for the entire first half, he came out in the second half like a man possessed with rage and fury. He racked up 25 points on only 7 shots, pulled down 13 rebounds, and recorded 2 blocks. He made his imprint on the game and shut the Hawks offense down.
Ricky Rubio was equally masterful. Despite having his name swirling in trade rumors for Memphis’ Mike Conley, Rubio had a Conley-esque stat line. He had 22 points and 11 rebounds. Ricky is still giving 100% to this team regardless of the result. He’s too pure and good for us.
Houston, meanwhile, will be without starting point guard Chris Paul as he’s resting on the second half of a B2B. That leaves James Harden as the only thing standing in between Utah and a win. That doesn’t mean it’ll be easy. In January he averaged 43.6 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 7.6 assists. He’s a team within himself. Utah will know who to lockdown on offense, but good luck doing that.
The Houston Rockets have been the walking wounded this year. They’ve had to endure stretches with Clint Capela, Chris Paul, Eric Gordon, Nene Hilario, and Brandon Knight. You may hate James Harden and his ability to draw a foul, but no player this season has done more for his team than James. He’s carrying them and carrying them to victory. He’s an MVP candidate once again.
When: Friday, Feb. 2, 2019 • 7:00 PM MT
Where: Vivint Smart Home Arena • Salt Lake City, UT
TV: AT&T Sports Net-Rocky Mountain
Radio: 97.5 FM | 1280 AM The Zone
Dante Exum – Left Ankle Sprain – OUT
Raul Neto – Groin – OUT
Thabo Sefolosha – Right Hamstring – OUT
Tony Bradley – Right Knee Surgery – OUT
Clint Capela — Thumb — OUT
Chris Paul — Back/Rest — OUT
Nene Hilario — Rest — OUT
Eric Gordon — Knee — Available
Brandon Knight — Knee — Day to Day
What to watch for
What does Rudy Gobert do for an encore?
Rudy Gobert had the perfect game to shut up the “Gobert’s not good at offense crowd” last night. 25 points on seven shots? That’s some flat out silly efficiency. Most of that damage was done in the second half as he was in foul trouble for the 1st. Gobert has a chance to be able to dominate Houston on the offensive end as they are without Clint Capela and Nene Hilario.
Who will guard Rudy Gobert in the paint? 6’8 Kenneth Faried. Faried hasn’t been a slouch since arriving to Houston, he’s averaging 16.5 points and 9.2 rebounds a game. But he’s not 7’2 and a defensive juggernaut.
Tonight could be another conveyor belt to the free throw line for Rudy Gobert as Faried and the rest of the Houston littles will be most likely foul Gobert rather than surrender the verticality for the alley-oop. If Houston gets too concerned with Gobert, that could open up another big game for Ricky Rubio.
Donovan Mitchell getting back in rhythm
Donovan had an okay night from the floor shooting (7 of 19 shooting), but the thing that brought him success in past outing was missing against Atlanta: free throw attempts. Donovan Mitchell only got to the line once. With Houston’s only rim protector being Kenneth Faried, it’s time to attack the paint mercilessly and draw the foul.
Houston is tired, injured, and not used to playing in altitude. This feels like Houston was given a scheduled loss. If Donovan is in full SPIDA attack mode, he can help the Jazz finish what the NBA Schedule gave them.