As a younger Utah Jazz fan (didn't really start watching until the '03-'04 season) I was surprised to find out how much the Houston Rockets fanbase hated our team. I always figured that everyone forgot about us because we were in the middle of the wilderness out West. Hate us they do, though, and I suppose that's kind of nice. It's fun to have rivalries, and, in general, the more fanbases hate your team the more relevant your team is or has been. Everyone hates the Yankees. Nobody hates the Twins.
Anyway, the Utah Jazz are on a three-game win streak, and the Houston Rockets have won 5 of their last 6. Something has to give, and it will be interesting to see what that is.
Pace of Play:
The Rox are not a terribly high-octane team in terms of pace, ranking 14th in the league, while putting up a 110.1 offensive efficiency (points scored per 100 possessions). The Jazz, on the other hand, are dead last in pace and post a defensive efficiency rating of 99.1, good for third-best in the NBA. To win this game, the Jazz must force Houston to play their way, especially since they are on the 2nd night of a back-to-back.
James "Soft" Harden:
In addition to pace of play, the Jazz must keep the Rockets' star out of the paint and force him to take stupid jump shots. He's good at making those, but them's the breaks: sometimes the other guys are good too. That said, keeping him out of the paint is doable because it belongs to one Rudy Gobert.
The Ex Factor:
Where oh where has Dante Exum gone? Unfortunately, he's gone to the bench. Apparently Quin Snyder thinks that he needs to spend some quality time with Raul Neto. That, or his knee is hurting. If he is healthy and gets to play, (which he should) Exum's defense could prove vital to stopping Houston's high-scoring shooting guard.
Should be a fun one. If George Hill, Rudy Gobert and Gordon Hayward are ready to go, I predict a win tonight, though Jazz-Rockets tilts are often unpredictable.