The Rockets will complete the first of 895 back-to-backs this season tonight (all numbers approximate). Playing in Utah always seems to be hard for Houston. In both games against last year's team, the Rockets struggled and trailed in the second half. In the first matchup, Houston overcame the back-to-back fatigue and won. Not so much the second time, as Houston played arguably one of its ugliest games of the season. Every team has somewhere around 5 ugly games per season, and Houston played two of theirs in Salt Lake City.
I still hate the Jazz because of the history there, but with no John Stockton, Karl Malone, or Jerry Sloan with the team they're infinitely more bearable.
Always these guys.
Tip off is at 8pm CST.
Point Guard: Patrick Beverley vs. Trey Burke
A common thread will be how each of these guys played well against Houston last year. Burke had himself a big night in the second game in Utah and could not be stopped. He went 9-18 with 21 points with 6 assists and zero turnovers for a +/- of +19. And he did most of it against Patrick Beverley.
Shooting Guard: James Harden vs. Alec Burks
Burks also had 21 points in that game, off the bench to carry the Jazz's second unit. He must be stopped if Houston wants this game.
Utah has no one that can stop Harden. On a related note, Harden should score a lot of points.
Small Forward: Trevor Ariza vs. Gordon Hayward
Oh look Hayward ALSO had an amazing game. 12-18 for 29 points and he just didn't miss anything down the stretch. The Rockets were without Chach Douche in that game, but I distinctly remember Hayward hitting shots with hands in his face from everywhere.
I'm hoping Ariza (Athreeza? Afrieza?) can shut him down tonight. Hayward received a huge contract this offseason and will be looking to prove himself.
Parsons: 2-10 shooting (1-4 from 3), 5 points, 4 rebounds, $14.7 million
Ariza: 5-10 shooting (5-8 from 3), 16 points, 3 rebounds, $8.6 million
Yes, I know it's not fair to compare Parsons vs. the Spurs and Ariza vs. the Lakers. But I still enjoyed watching Parsons miss the potential winner. I promise I'll stop talking about Parsons in this section soon.
Power Forward: Terrence Jones vs. Derrick Favors
Favors didn't miss a shot or a free throw in that game. 6-6 from the field and 2-2 from the stripe for a line of 14/13.
I think we can say that everything went right for Utah that night while nothing went Houston's way (with injuries to Parsons and Lin). Utah gets a step-up tonight because they'll be in front of a rowdy opening night crowd while Houston is coming off a game in LA while losing an hour on the way to Utah.
Center: Dwight Howard vs. Enes Kanter
I'm glad Dwight and Kobe didn't get into a fight. Not because I don't think Dwight would win. In fact, I think Patrick Beverley would have kicked the other nine guys on the court's asses before they knew what was happening.
But you know that if Kobe and Dwight were to fight, Dwight would get suspended for 3 years and Kobe would get a technical that the league would rescind the next day.
We saw what will be most teams' strategy when facing Dwight this season: get him in foul trouble. Tarik Black performed admirably in Dwight's absences and the Rockets got away with not even getting 24 minutes from their All-Star center.
Rockets: Propeller Plane, Donatas Motiejunas, Tarik Black, Kostas Papanikolaou
Prediction: Picked the Jazz to win on the podcast, and I'll stick with it. Jazz win 94-90 in a gritty affair.
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