Don’t look now, but the Utah Jazz (35-21) are on a five game winning streak at home after a tough battle against the Nuggets to kick off February and blowout wins against the Nets, Warriors, and Magic, with a come-from-behind fight against the Knicks thrown in for good measure. While January was probably the most atrocious month of Jazz basketball in the Quin Snyder era, this Jazz team has looked so much better with Donovan Mitchell back and a swap to starting second year player Udoka Azuibuike. The Jazz made a pretty significant change at the trade deadline, sending out fan favorite and team legend Joe Ingles alongside recent draftee Elijah Hughes for 2019 first round pick Nickel Alexander Walker from the Pelicans via Portland, who may be the defensive guard the Jazz desperately need.
On the other hand, the Houston Rockets (15-40) traded big man Daniel Theis back to the Celtics in exchange for Dennis Schroder, Enes Freedom (formerly Kanter, and former Jazzman), and Bruno Fernando. With Enes waived and neither Fernando nor Schroder expected to play much, it was surprising to see the Rockets not move any of Eric Gordon, Christian Wood, or still-injured former All Star John Wall. The Rockets have just 5 wins in 2022 against 14 losses, and are 15-40 on the season. While they are definitely still “building for the future” (read: tanking), the roster composition is definitely still awkward, with the young talent occasionally showing huge strides while sometimes falling flat.
When: 7:00 PM MT
Where: Vivint Smart Home Arena, Salt Lake City, Utah
TV: AT&T SportsNet-Rocky Mountain, AT&T SportsNet-Southwest
Radio: KZNS/KTUB, KQBU-FM
Projected Starting Lineups
Utah: G: Mike Conley G: Donovan Mitchell F: Royce O’Neale F: Bojan Bogdanovic C: Udoka Azuibuike
Houston: G: Kevin Porter Jr. G: Jalen Green F: Eric Gordon F: Jae’Sean Tate C: Christian Wood
What to watch for
With Rudy Gobert out for the last 9 games and missing 14 total games this season, moving Hassan back to his backup position has paid enormous dividends, allowing him to feast on bench units. Whiteside has a 0-7 record when starting, and a 28-9 record otherwise (15-2 record when playing 16 or more minutes). In the last four games since being demoted, Hassan’s averaged 10.5 points and 12.75 rebounds per game, looking like a man possessed in his recent 15 point, 18 rebound outing against the Magic last game in just 27 minutes, and 9 points, 17 rebounds, and 7 blocks (6 in the first half) in the game before. If Hassan can keep up this energy even with Rudy back, the Jazz will go back to having one of - if not the top - center rotation in the NBA.
The Rockets Guards
The Rockets ended up not trading either Eric Gordon or Christian Wood at the deadline, but their strengths still revolve around their guard play, where they tend to start 3 guards alongside a combination of Jae’Sean Tate (6’4”), Christian Wood, and rookie center Alperen Sengun, especially after Daniel Theis was traded back to Boston. Kevin Porter Jr. has regressed a little bit since last season from averaging 16.6 points and 6.3 assists to 13.8 points and 6.1 assists, but that has come as the Rockets have gathered a bit more offensive talent and Porter has recovered from a left thigh injury that caused him to miss 15 games. In spite of off-the-court issues that saw him traded to the Rockets for a top-55 protected second round pick, he remains the youngest player to score 50 points with 10 assists, which he recorded last season against the Bucks.
Garrison Mathews is known by some as a defensive stud, but he actually led the Rockets with 23 points (5 threes) in their last matchup with the Jazz on January 19, which the Jazz lost in the middle of their dreadful January. 2021 2nd overall pick Jalen Green is averaging 16.2 points and 3.4 assists in 5 games in February, up from his season averages of 14.4 points and 2.4 assists. Recent trade acquisition Dennis Schroder is one season removed from starting on the title-contending Lakers, and in spite of falling off a bit, still averaged 14.4 points and 4 assists this season with the Celtics. And the Rockets will likely get Eric Gordon, ye of a career-high 50 points against the Jazz last season, back from a heel injury tonight (listed as probable). The Rockets are a scrappy, talented team that should not be overlooked.
In the 44 games the Jazz have played this season, the team is 30-14 with him in the lineup compared to 5-7 without him. It is such a joy to see him ball out. These last four games have shown off what he can do: shoot from distance (6 of 7 from three against Brooklyn) drawn fouls (10 free throws against Orlando), distribute and rebound when his shot’s not falling (14 points, 10 rebounds, 8 assists against Golden State), or just flat out make buckets (32 points on 26 shots, 50% shooting in spite of 2 of 10 from three against New York). Donovan is truly a deserving 3-time All Star at the young age of 25, and it continues to be awesome to have him in a Jazz uniform.