The rivalry! Payback! Revenge!
This is a rivalry reborn in the Western Conference, dating back to 1985. These teams have met seven times in the playoffs, with Jazz leading the postseason series 5-2. However, the two times the Rockets beat the Jazz in the playoffs, they went on to win the NBA Championship.
So the Rockets should be looking at this as revenge, right?
Well, a grand total of four players from that 2008 playoff series are still in the NBA. The Rockets just knocked off Aaron Brooks and his Minnesota Timberwolves. Paul Millsap is now on the Denver Nuggets and missed the postseason completely. Kyle Korver and C.J. Miles are still in the postseason (though Korver could be gone by the time Houston and Utah tip-off). Speaking of Korver:
Utah will be missing Ricky Rubio for up to 10 days, which means he will probably miss the first three games and likely miss Game 4 as well. For Houston, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is questionable, which is an upgrade. The Rockets will need bodies to throw at Donovan Mitchell, who had a debut series for the ages as he tore apart the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Jazz have a formidable lineup, and the addition of Jae Crowder gives them more length and another defender to throw at James Harden. Still, that came at the cost of losing Rodney Hood, who murdered the Rockets every time the teams played. Joe Ingles is the heart and soul of the Jazz squad, even though he looks like just showed up to the arena after playing pickup at the Y. The only thing missing are Air Monarchs and jorts.
The Jazz’s true weapon against Houston is Rudy Gobert, whose length at the rim will make life difficult for Harden and Chris Paul. That means that Clint Capela will need to step up once again and try to neutralize a totally different type of player than Karl-Anthony Towns. Furthermore, CP3 will have to use his midrange game to find ways to score on Gobert.
Like every game, the key for the Rockets is to play their personal brand of inside-out basketball. If Houston’s shooters can knock down triples, the paint will stay free and Harden can feast. Meanwhile, Ryan Anderson could be a key player in this series when Gobert sits. I expect to see him as the small-ball five a few times. This is his series more than the Minnesota series was. But Houston needs all of its shooters to show up. CP3, Eric Gordon, and Gerald Green combined to shoot 30% from deep. If that continues, Houston is going to struggle to beat the Jazz.
Tip-off is at 2:30pm CT on ABC