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Houston Rockets vs. Utah Jazz game preview

NBA: Utah Jazz at Dallas Mavericks Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

I think I’m willing to call this a trap game.

You know how much I hate to say “trap” game, especially when the Rockets are as good as they are. But there are extenuating circumstances that make this game scary for Houston.

First off, the Rockets should win this game. They are better than the Utah Jazz. And that’s not to disrespect the team from Salt Lake City. They’re really good. But Houston, on paper, is better. Here’s where you say “Ah, but the game isn’t played on paper, AK!”

Correct. And Houston may not be focusing 100% on their next opponent.

No, they’re probably still a little pissed about the San Antonio Screwjob. Beverley was upset after the game, as were Harden and MDA. I can’t really blame them. And if these teams meet in the playoffs, you can bet refereeing will play a major part in deciding the winner. And that’s unfortunate.

“Harden gets all the calls” used to be the narrative, but in reality I have now seen both Russell Westbrook and Kawhi Leonard get foul calls late when Harden didn’t. So here we are, watching Kawhi pin the ball against the backboard over and over again and listening to people say that Kawhi has now passed Harden in the MVP race.

I did kind of predict it in my Mailbag Preview though.

All I know is that whichever star’s team wins this game, their fans will use it as an argument as to that player’s MVP candidacy. Because the MVP should totally be decided by a game in early March.

So Houston might not be in the right frame of mind for a hungry and surging Utah Jazz squad that is just 4 games back in the race for the 3 seed. With this being the final meeting between these two teams, tonight will decide the tiebreaker. Houston already owns the tiebreaker over the Clippers, they drew with Memphis 2-2, and lead OKC 2-1 with one more game at Toyota Center remaining.

Houston has been in the driver’s seat for the 3 seed since early December. A win tonight all-but-guarantees it. The Rockets have earned this spot.

But the Utah Jazz are a tough matchup. Rudy Gobert has given Harden fits in the past. In the Rockets’ win, Gobert finished with 12/14 with four blocks, but Harden had 31/10 and Houston only turned the ball over four times. The Rockets’ bench gave them a lift and George Hill didn’t play.

In the second game, Houston couldn’t hit anything. They shot 41% from the field. They hit a respectable 37% from distance, but it wasn’t enough. The Jazz just didn’t miss. Every team has a few games like that every season. Bad teams maybe get one or two and great teams get them five or six times. I’m talking about “Yeah we’re not gonna miss tonight. So either you better have one of those games too, or you had better start praying we miss.”

Utah shot 55% from the field 54% from deep. Gordon Hayward took 13 free throws on his way to 31 points. Gobert had 16/14 and the Jazz won 120-101. George Hill did play in this one and finished with the top +/- in the game despite a ho-hum game (8p/4a/1r/3to).

So this is a big one for both teams. The better shooting team will probably win. The Jazz aren’t a great matchup for Houston but seem unlikely to be a foe Houston faces in the playoffs.

Hopefully the Rockets get the taste of defeat out of their mouths tonight. Because this feels like a trap.

Tip-off is at 7pm CT.

I would get fired if I didn’t post this, and it’s just too funny.