The Utah Jazz go up against their old rivals the Houston Rockets tonight. These teams have only 0.5 games between them down the stretch of this season, and both are looking to punch their tickets to the NBA Playoffs. This isn't a completely zero-sum game, but it's close. The Rockets have won twice against the Jazz, and a win tonight will clinch the season series -- and thus that important tie breaker. The Jazz want to tie it up and show the world that they are for real. Both teams think they belong but have had struggles. Houston under-performed to start this season, they fired their head coach Kevin McHale, and some people wanted J.B. Bickerstaff gone too. Their star players James Harden and Dwight Howard apparently secretly went behind everyone's backs to try to get the other traded at the deadline. Nuts. They've made a number of moves and still find themselves on the wrong side of .500. Utah didn't have an issue of on-court cohesion, but an injury one which plagues them to date. Dante Exum has missed the entire season. Alec Burks played in only 20 games. Both bigmen Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors missed about a third of the year as well with some level of overlap. Even the team's ironman Gordon Hayward has been battling plantar fasciitis of late, causing him to miss two games last week.
These are two different teams facing challenges -- and both are motivated to go for it all tonight.
The Rockets played last night, and lost, to the Oklahoma City Thunder by just four points. They gave it their all and played their best players all between 33 to 40 minutes, with three going 38, 40, 40. If they are tired it could be a factor in this game against the Jazz. That said, the Jazz had two nights off and are notoriously poor on games after extended rest.
H-Town likes the run, and Utah likes to play a slot game. Houston has the 8th best offense in ORTG and 4th best in PPG. Utah has the 10th best defense in DRTG and the 2nd best in Opp. PPG. You see where this is going. It's going to the boards and the free throw line.
If Utah controls the glass (on offense and on defense) then Houston can't run. If Houston can get an up and down game their guys will draw fouls and get to the line.
It's really that simple. Sure, Houston also plays defense and forces a lot of turn overs, but are 29th out of 30 in defending their glass. Yes, Utah has a deliberate attack, but they give up the ball a lot as well. Quin Snyder has to keep it simple. Defend the three point line and get rebounds. And you'll win.