The Utah Jazz (40-24) are in Houston tonight to take on the Rockets (44-20). It starts an insane stretch of schedule for the Jazz as they face current playoff teams in each of their next 7 games, with 6 of those on the road. Unfortunately, this one is shaping up to be a bad showing for Utah, but here are some things to watch for anyways.
Injuries 2: Electric Boogaloo
Our brief reprieve of actually having a fully available roster is over. Derrick Favors will be out tonight as he continues to deal with knee problems. Shelvin Mack will miss his third consecutive game after tweaking an ankle in warmups, though he’s been out of the rotation for a while. George Hill is questionable after missing Monday’s game to rest his big toe and Joe Johnson might miss a fourth straight game with groin soreness. If the Jazz are going to pick up the unlikely win tonight they’ll need a gargantuan effort from Gordon Hayward, Dante Exum and Raul Neto will need to continue their solid play of late and a certain sophomore power forward will need to wake up. Which brings us to our next point...
Trey Lyles will probably play a lot
And that’s not good for the Jazz, according to Lyles’ performance this season. He’s been in and out of the rotation lately, playing few minutes outside of garbage time. Quite frankly, he hasn’t been good and he just looks uncomfortable on the court lately. He’s shooting just 37% this season and only 31% from 3. With Lyles on the court, Utah’s offensive rating has been 4.4 points worse and the defensive rating has been 2.6 points worse.
Having said that, there are a couple reasons for hope. Saturday against Brooklyn we saw that Lyles might be figuring out how to impact the game without his shot falling. In 13 minutes he logged 3 rebounds, 2 blocks, an assist and a steal while shooting 0-of-6 from the field. Unfortunately, he was still a -10 in a 15-point win.
The biggest reason to believe tonight might snap Lyles out of his funk is that his best game of the season came against these Rockets. On Nov. 29 Lyles shot 5-of-8 for 13 points and was a +8 in the Jazz win. Reports have James Harden matching up with power forwards tonight with Ryan Anderson out with back spasms. Lyles’ greatest contribution tonight could be attacking Harden relentlessly with his size to put the MVP candidate in foul trouble.
Lou Williams: What could’ve been
The Jazz were reportedly looking into Lou Williams at the trade deadline before he was sent to Houston essentially for a first round pick. Utah could’ve beaten Houston’s offer pretty easily had they been so inclined. Instead, he went to a team they’re fighting in the standings. Williams with the Rockets is averaging 15 points per game and has a 17.5 PER. That combined with his lengthy history of being a certified Jazz killer may be the final nail in the coffin for our squad tonight.
The Rockets: Could they shoot any MORE 3s?
Houston fires 40.5 3-point attempts per game! They’re also shooting 36.4% from range. The moments the Rockets look the weakest is when their 3s aren’t falling. Shocking, I know. Honestly, the best strategy for the Jazz tonight might be to just hope the shots aren’t falling. Odds are they won’t hit 12 of their first 13 3-pointers.
A win against the odds tonight for the Jazz would be massive. With the upcoming schedule (the Jazz have the toughest remaining schedule in the league per nba.com), the ship of catching Houston for the 3-seed has most likely sailed. BUT! A win tonight would give Utah more breathing room in the 4 spot and put them just 3 games back of the Rockets, not to mention giving them the tiebreaker. A loss tonight officially slams the door on the 3 seed.