HOUSTON — On a night when the Utah Jazz welcomed Rudy Gobert back after a five-week absence, they lost another top player to injury, for who knows how long.
The Jazz lost to the Houston Rockets 103-94 for the second time in three nights Thursday at the Toyota Center to drop to 15-20 on the season. Once again they had no answer for All-Star James Harden, who scored 33 points, after scoring 30 on Monday night in Salt Lake.
It was an exciting night for the Jazz to have Gobert playing for the first time since Nov. 30 and the big Frenchman looked good in scoring six points and grabbing three rebounds in 15 minutes of play.
However, another Jazz starter went down with an injury as Rodney Hood injured his right ankle early in the third quarter on a play away from the ball. His injury was termed a “sore ankle” and a Jazz spokesperson said he’ll be evaluated Friday when the team returns to Salt Lake.
It could be a minor sprain, but the way Hood lay on the floor after apparently landing on Harden’s foot and how he left the floor putting little weight on the foot, made one wonder if it might be more serious. Hood missed 32 games last year, mostly because of injuries to each foot.
“It was hard to lose Rodney Hood at a crucial time in the game,” said coach Quin Snyder. “Obviously it was serious enough he couldn’t keep playing but I don’t know what that means.”
“It’s unfortunate and I hope he has a speedy recovery,’’ said Gordon Hayward. “It’s going to be tough on us mentally, besides the obvious physical part. You feel for these guys. It’s going to be a mental challenge for everybody to fight through it.”
Even without Hood, not to mention Derrick Favors, who missed his eighth straight game and Alec Burks, who is out until at least next month, the Jazz battled against the Rockets right until the final minute.
Eight Jazz players scored at least eight points with Hayward leading the way with 15 points. Trevor Booker had one of his better games of the season with 12 points and nine rebounds, while Chris Johnson scored a season-high 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting. Trey Burke had 10 points off the bench to go along with Hood, who scored 10, all in the first half. Trey Lyles added nine points and Joe Ingles and Jeff Withey each had eight. Raul Neto led the Jazz with seven assists.
“CJ comes in, Joe comes in and Raul . . . started playing better, Trey Lyles and Book and those guys just compete,” said Snyder. “I’m not sure we can do more than we’re doing. It’s tough to win at Houston it’s tough to win at San Antonio. I didn’t expect this but I knew it would be hard, even harder when we lose Rodney.”
Like they did at the Vivint Center on Monday, the Jazz led early and took a 44-39 lead into halftime. But like Monday, they were outscored badly in the second half as Houston had a 64-50 second-half advantage in the second 24 minutes after outscoring the Jazz 45-33 in the second half on Monday.
One of the key plays of the night came midway through the third quarter on a defensively play by Harden, of all people, who isn’t known for his defense.
The Jazz were leading 55-54 and had a three-on-one fast break after a steal by Hayward. He passed to Burke, who wrapped the ball around Harden to Johnson, but Harden was able to block Johnson’s shot. Then at the other end Trevor Ariza hit a 3-pointer and the Jazz never led again.
The Jazz got within four several times in the final five minutes, the last time on a Hayward bank shot with 35 seconds left. After a Harden free throw, and down five, the Jazz had a chance to cut into the lead but after a timeout Hayward’s three from the top missed everything and the Rockets put the game away with some free throws in the final half minute.
Besides Harden’s 33 points, the Rockets got 14 from Terrence Jones and 12 apiece from Jason Terry and Marcus Thornton.
Utah returns home for a game Saturday night against Miami before heading back on the road for a game Sunday night against the Lakers in Los Angeles. The Jazz and Rockets will meet up again on February 23 in Salt Lake.