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Houston Rockets vs. Utah Jazz game preview

NBA: Houston Rockets at Utah Jazz Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

This was supposed to be a battle of long winning streaks. Utah headed into the break on an 11-game winning streak, with the Rockets right behind with an even 10 straight.

Unfortunately for the neutral fan, the Jazz stumbled in their first game out of the gate, losing at home to Portland. They regained their winning ways by taking down the Mavs the next night, but this matchup has lost about half of its luster. Also, the disclaimer of this not being a trap game continues. This is the NBA and the Rockets have the best record in the Association. Either every game is a trap game or none of them are. There’s no in-between.

Houston, of course, still comes in on a 12-game winning streak after taking care of the Nuggets in Denver last night. The two toughest places to play in the NBA are generally considered to be both parts of this back-to-back. Denver comes in at a mile above sea level (thus the nickname and puns about...substances), but Utah is about 80% of a mile above sea level and has always been a tough building to win in.

Win streak or not, the Jazz have been playing much better since their 19-28 start. They now sit just two games out of eighth place. In case you hadn’t noticed how volatile the Western Conference standings are, the Jazz are just four losses back of the San Antonio Spurs for third place. Also, there are six teams in the league with 18 wins trying to tank. It’s crazy in these streets, y’all.

Utah’s story has centered around Donovan Mitchell. Right now, he’s keeping pace with Ben Simmons in the Rookie of the Year discussion. He’s averaging 20/4/4, which is great for a rookie but remember: Tyreke Evans averaged 20/5/5 as a rookie too. Mitchell looks really good though and Utah got a great one (unfortunately). Rudy Gobert sat out a chunk of the season earlier but has bounced back and is the fearsome rim protector that has given the Rockets (and everyone else) fits. Ricky Rubio’s been much better offensively and is shooting 50% from deep over his last ten games.

The Jazz also have wings in spades, and can throw a bunch of different looks at James Harden with Joe Ingles, Jae Crowder, Jonas Jerebko, and Royce O’Neale all available to use length to cause issues.

For Houston, Eric Gordon is questionable with an illness. Nene should be available after sitting out against the Nuggets.

Tip-off is at 8pm CT