For weeks the Utah Jazz have been watching the standings and noting the rapid rise of the Houston Rockets. Tonight at the Summit, they will be doing more than watching.
Don't go away, folks. Coming up next is Hakeem Olajuwon and his Hamazing Dream Team - the hottest club in the NBA.PSN cable will show the game at 6:30 p.m. (MST), with the pregame at 6.
The Rockets, who have now won 14 of their last 15 games after their Friday night victory over Denver, have been on a roll that, so far, shows few signs of abating. They have gone 28-5 in their last 33 games.
While the Rockets played surprisingly well with Olajuwon out for almost two months with an eye injury, they have been even better since. Upon his return, they lost one game, then won 12 straight.
"It's not how you start, it's how you finish," said Olajuwon. "If we just take one game at a time and play with full intensity, the sky's the limit."
Since his return, Olajuwon has found a brave new world with the Rockets. Coach Don Chaney has changed his strategy and Olajuwon is being used in a variety of ways. "It's like the game has opened up," said Olajuwon. "I used to be posting up 95 percent of the time. Now, I get some points on the pick-and-roll, some in the open floor. It's supposed to be a team sport. you can play your game and dominate from different areas. It's more fun now. I can relax some of the time, pace myself."
Utah beat the Rockets twice in Salt Lake this season (103-92 and 113-92) and lost in Houston (110-90). Olajuwon played in the first game game in Salt Lake and the contest in Houston.
The Jazz have a 15-28 alltime record when playing the Rockets on the road.
Tonight's game has major playoff ramifications. If the Jazz - who are tied with Houston for second place in the Midwest - don't win the division title, they will end up as either the fifth- or sixth-seeded team in the Western Conference playoffs. Winning the division means the difference between probably opening up the playoffs against Golden State (currently the No. 7 team), Phoenix (currently No. 4) or Los Angeles (currently No. 3).
"These games are big, obviously, but you never know what's going to happen later," said Jazz guard Delaney Rudd. "Even if we don't win the division, there's still that second season coming up. We'll use these games this weekend, hopefully, to win the division, and if not, we'll take it as it comes."
Meanwhile, Houston remains optimistic about its chances. Kenny Smith said, "When I came here (in a September trade with Atlanta), a lot of people close to me said the Rockets wouldn't do as well as last year's (41-41) record. So I said, 'OK, for each win over that, it's a free dinner for me.' The way we're going, I won't have to buy any food for a month. Nothing surprises me about what we have been doing."