The Utah Jazz look to improve to 4-0 tonight against the (very) young Rockets in Houston.
It’s still too early in the season to glean any meaningful trends. But we don’t need to dive deep into any metrics to know that Houston isn’t very good. The Rockets are currently ranked 22nd in offensive efficiency and 18th in defensive efficiency. A win over the 21-22 Oklahoma City Generals likely makes those rankings look rosier than they will a month from now.
On offense, Houston lacks any meaningful playmakers. Eric Gordon is the veteran of the bunch, and looks old. Jalen Green is intriguing, but is 19 years old. Christian Wood is a good NBA player, but his returns are diminished when tasked with being a primary playmaker. Thus far, Houston is scratching out 103 points per possession by pushing the ball in transition, and letting guys go to work in a five-out, open floor. It’s not a bad strategy for a young team that doesn’t have a lot of hardwood savvy yet.
On our side, the Jazz could be without key rotational pieces tonight, as Bojan Bogdanovic, Miye Oni, and Eric Paschall are all listed as questionable. Udoka Azubuike and Rudy Gay are also listed as out. Without Bogdanovic, Oni, and Paschall, the Jazz will have a tight rotation, likely squeezing more minutes out of Joe Ingles, Royce O’Neale, and Jordan Clarkson.
That’s probably fine. Defensively, the Rockets are going to switch one through five. For Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside, that should yield opportunities to A) slip screens and get easy dunks, B) extend possessions with offensive rebounds, and possibly C) punish mismatches in the post. For Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, and the Jazz guards, it should create lots of potentially easy one-on-one matchups. Donovan has not been particularly efficient through three games. Tonight might be a chance for him to get going.
Switching defenses have given the Jazz problems in the past. It can gum up Utah’s “blender” offense, and force its guards, mostly Donovan and Clarkson, to try and create one-on-one. But here’s the thing about switching one through five: you have to have good perimeter defenders to be able to do it effectively, and the Rockets don’t. Barring some kind of poop-the-bed shooting night, and/or an Eric Gordon explosion (I’m still traumatized from the 50-piece he gave the Jazz in 2020), Utah should notch an easy win.
On defense, Houston is going to make for a fun test case against what killed the Jazz in the postseason, and how Utah retooled its roster in the offseason. Houston plays almost exclusively a five-out offense. The Rockets are going to try to drag Rudy away from the rim, and attack the Jazz perimeter players one-on-one. You can bet Quin’s mantra “guard your yard,” will be a point of emphasis going into tonight’s matchup. Houston doesn’t have anyone that especially scares me, but then again, Terance Mann and Reggie Jackson ended our season last year. Jazz perimeter defenders will have to step up tonight. I expect they will.
Jazz Game Plan
Don’t let the Rockets switching defense gum up the blender. Don’t let Rockets guards shred perimeter defense. Don’t let Eric Gordon score 50 again.
Final Prediction: Jazz Win 126-105