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Utah Jazz vs Houston Rockets: Five Things to Watch

A man with a long beard is coming to town, and it isn’t Santa

NBA: Utah Jazz at Houston Rockets Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

James Harden is coming to the Beehive State. I’d say the Houston Rockets are coming but does any person in the NBA sphere care about anyone on the Rockets that doesn’t have the same facial hair as Blackbeard?

Joking aside, here are the many (five) things for you to look out for when the Rockets land in Salt Lake City.

How will the Utah Jazz (try to) stop James Harden?

I’ve already touched on this in a bit of a joking tone, but Harden basically does everything on offense for Houston. He is currently averaging 28.9 points AND 12.2 assists. High assists and points typically don’t go together the way Harden has done so this season. A lot of this has to do with a significant increase in touches, but you don’t put up 29/12 by just rolling out of bed (unless you’re Wilt Chamberlain and that 12 is rebounds).

Last time the Jazz had a go at James Harden, they did OK defending him. Yes, Harden did put up 31 points but he had to take 24 shots to do so. So it wasn’t all bad. What was bad was the fact that Harden had ten assists but zero turnovers. That game is still the only one where he has had zero turnovers this season (he averages 5.7).

How do you stop James Harden? Well, if I knew that I’d be an NBA head coach right now. But one idea is to make him pass the ball. Make the rest of the Rockets players (yes, they exist) beat you. In the Rockets’ wins this season James Harden averages 11.3 assists. In losses that number jumps to 14.0. So one thing you might keep your eyes on is if the Jazz put extra pressure on Harden to dish the ball out; even if that means allowing a better outing from some of the fringe players and a higher assist total for Harden.

How will the Jazz defend the Three?

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of James Harden passing; 59% of his passes go to one of three players: Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza, and Eric Gordon. Combined, these three players shoot 21.4 three-pointers per game and make 39.7% of them. Overall, Houston shoots more three-pointers than anyone in the league and are fourth in their shooting percentage.

Funnily enough the Jazz actually out-shot the Rockets from three; making the same number of threes (12) while shooting a better percentage (44.4-37.5) and lost. But this is still a major weapon for Houston, so the Jazz need to defend against it.

Rudy Gobert vs Rockets frontcourt

NBA: Utah Jazz at Minnesota Timberwolves Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past three games Rudy Gobert is averaging 15 points, 13.3 rebounds, 3.3 blocks, and about nine free throws per game. Simply put, Gobert has been dominating his opponents. And he’s about to face a frontcourt that is not very intimidating in Ryan Anderson and Clint Capela. To put things into perspective, consider that over the last three games for each team Rudy has recorded more rebounds and blocks than both Anderson and Capela COMBINED.

This is a chance for the Stifle Tower to flex his muscles and show off every single reason the Jazz are paying him $100 million.

The Hayward-Hill Combo

NBA: Preseason-Utah Jazz at Phoenix Suns Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

When George Hill was having his great start to the season. I figured that his high scoring totals were in part due to Gordon Hayward’s absence. I figured his numbers would drop when Gordon came back. So far I’ve been happily wrong.

In four games together (an admittedly small sample size) Hayward-Hill has produced 47.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 6.25 assists per game. These numbers are making me giddy as a school boy and I’m praying for more against Houston.

Dante Exum’s minutes

NBA: Utah Jazz at Denver Nuggets Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Here is the complete list of major complaints for Jazz fans in order:

  1. Injuries
  2. Dante Exum’s minutes (or lack thereof)

First I should mention that we ought to be grateful at how short that list is. And since there is nothing anyone can do to control the former I’d call this season a success so far.

There are complaints about Exum not getting the amount of minutes we’d like for being a former fifth pick in the draft. And there are many possible reasons for why Dante is getting fewer minutes. But we can always hope that things will change.