The Houston Rockets are in Utah to take on Rudy Gobert and the Jazz tonight at 10:30 EST on ESPN on Saturday night. The Jazz are looking to hold serve in this series with the Rockets taking the first 2 games in Houston with relative ease. Houston ran away with the first two games winning by 32 and 20 in the first two games. I expect this game to be the determining game of the series and Vegas actually likes the Jazz here -2.5. I was pretty surprised with this line simply due to the results of the first 2 games.
Rockets Look to Keep Rolling
The Rockets have played fantastic in each of the first two games limiting the Jazz to under 100 points in each of the first two games. The Rockets defense took a major step back from last season to the beginning of this season with the loss of Ariza and Mbah a Moute as elite wing defenders in the playoffs. However, the Rockets are starting to round into form defensively, as evidence of their recent games. I do think the Rockets defense is better than it would grade out over the entire season with Chris Paul and Clint Capela healthy, but I do think that a lot of this poor play by the Jazz is self-inflicted.
Utah Needing Guys to Step Up
When I first had to think about this series, my biggest concern for either team was the Jazz’s ability to create offensively. Everyone was obsessed with Donovan Mitchell last season as he carried the Jazz in a lot of games, but he isn’t as skilled offensively and he has struggled to be efficient in the first two games. Donovan Mitchell is an athletic, volume-scorer and that is all he is until he becomes more skilled, especially in a series that requires him to step up when Houston knows he is the guy. Utah can get 20 out of Joe Ingles or Rudy Gobert if they get into good positions, but Mitchell needs to be consistent for the Jazz, especially if the Jazz want to win a game in Houston.
We often see role players have more success at home in playoff series because they are just more comfortable in the setting. This is something that the Jazz will need to do if they want to get back into the series tonight. Jae Crowder is someone that I think the Jazz need to compete in this series. Crowder is a good defender and someone that can score in bunches and off of screens. Utah lacks creators, so they need to use ball movement and player movement to make shots and Crowder is one of the better players to do so on the roster. Crowder has only played 18 and 20 minutes in the first two games, which is much less than I expected, as he matches up better with someone like P.J. Tucker than Derrick Favors. This lack of playing time could very well be from the 3-18 shooting performance he has had in the first two games.
Utah Tightens Series
This matchup smells like a trap line to me and I am riding with the Jazz (-2.5) here. The Jazz have shot 21% from 3 in the first two games while the Rockets have shot 41%. If we expect both teams to regress to their means in term of shooting, we expect the Jazz to score about 13 points more per game while the Rockets score 3 less. Those numbers obviously would change our opinions of the first few games and I think that is the key here. The Jazz shot a little better at home as a team this season and they also took more 3s at home. I expect the Jazz to bounce back here and capture their first win of the series.