Actually it’s just round 1 of the NBA playoffs in the Western Conference. However, these two are meeting for the second time in as many years. Last time the Rockets sent the Jazz home packing in just 5 games, will this year be any different?
There are several compelling matchups in this series. The game within the game will be fun to watch over the next couple weeks. Can the Jazz slow James Harden down as much as they did last time? Will Chris Paul make a playoff jump like it’s 2018? Is Rudy Gobert prepared to defend more on the wing rather than in the paint? What will the chess match between Quin Snyder and Mike D’Antonio?
To preview the series, I decided to look at who the key players for each team could end up being in the series. While we typically think about the faces of the each franchise as stepping up in the playoffs—Michael Jordan, Karl Malone, Shaq—most of the time it’s the second and third options of each team that play the biggest roles. All you have to do is go to Andre Igoudala being a Finals MVP and Danny Green stepping up big. For Utah, who could forget Kyrylo Fesenko stepping up so big on the big stage that Carmelo Anthony used Fesenko synonymously with an expletive, “Fesenko, Fesenko, Fesenko.”
I’ll start with the Rockets.
Houston Rockets: Chris Paul
Chris Paul absolutely murdered the Jazz last year. Utah kept Harden contained basically all series. The MVP shot only 40% from the field and under 30% from 3. He was no where near as lethal as usual. But Chris Paul? That’s a different story. He increased his scoring averages from 18.6 a game to 24.6. I felt like every single mid range shot he took went in. He also shot over 44% from 3, up from his season average of 38%.
But this year’s Chris Paul is not last year’s Chris Paul. Having only played 58 games, CP3’s body doesn’t hold up as well anymore. He’s averaging less points than ever before in his career. He’s rarely shot so poorly either. Will he have an extra gear or two for the playoffs? If the Jazz defend Harden like they did last year, he’ll have to. If not, then Jazz fans shouldn’t be nearly as concerned as they currently are.
Utah Jazz: Derrick Favors
The obvious candidates here are Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. But I just expect greatness from them at this point. Ricky Rubio would be another solid selection. He missed the entire series after playing a huge role in the round 1 series win over the OKC Thunder. But I decided to go with power forward Derrick Favors.
Looking at his matchups, I think this is where the series could be won or lost. The Rockets generally start PJ Tucker at power forward. Power forward probably isn’t the way to describe that, as Tucker is only 6’6” 245. That said, he shoots the 3 pretty well, which is why they have him out there. Both Favors and Tucker are probably having the best statistical seasons of their careers.
In the box score, neither player may appear to make a huge impact. But both are vital to winning. At 6’10” and 265, Favs has a huge height and power advantage. But Tucker is a far superior shooter that stretches the floor. So which will win out?
I’m hoping for big things out of Derrick Favors this postseason. If the Jazz are going to get out of the first round, I think Favs will be a big reason why.