SALT LAKE CITY — Coming off their best stretch of the season, which included six straight victories and a close loss in Oklahoma City Tuesday night, the Utah Jazz face their toughest test of the season Thursday night when the Houston Rockets come to town for an 8:30 p.m. game (TNT) at Vivint Arena.
The Rockets have the second-best record in the NBA this year at 18-4 and the best road record at 10-1. Houston has won seven straight games, all by double digits, an average of 18 points and has won 13 of its last 14.
After losing to the Rockets by 23 points Sunday night, Lakers’ coach Luke Walton called the Rockets a “well-oiled machine” and the best team in the NBA right now.
Jazz coach Quin Snyder wasn’t worrying much about the Rockets after Tuesday night’s disappointing loss where his team led for 44 minutes by as much as 17 points before faltering down the stretch. He’s just concerned about his own team getting better and believes it is.
When asked about his team’s six-game winning streak coming to a halt, Snyder said, “I didn’t even realize we’d won six straight to be honest with you. That’s not at all where my mind is, about win streaks. I’m not concerned with that. The only thing I’m thinking about is our team getting better and I’m hoping we can get better from tonight. We’re the same team that won the other night and we’re the same team that lost tonight.”
Snyder didn’t appear upset at all about his team’s performance and was complimentary of his team for the most part.
“There was a lot of good things that we did,” Snyder said. “(Oklahoma City) is a real good team and they’re a good closing team and they’re at home. I thought our guys did a great job competing the way they did. We’ll get better.”
Snyder was unhappy with his team’s inability to secure rebounds, particularly in the fourth quarter. The Rockets outrebounded the Jazz 34-26 and finished with 12 offensive boards compared to nine for Utah.
“We’ve got to get a defensive rebound,” he said. “Late, we weren’t able to secure a couple of defensive rebounds. Those are opportunities during the game we had to get in the open floor. The offensive rebounds are killers. If we get a defensive rebound we get a chance to play in flow and the game doesn’t stagnate in the halfcourt. That’s one of the things that's tough to overcome if you don’t secure the defensive glass.”
Steven Adams finished with six offensive boards on the night, including a killer with 43 seconds left when he tipped in a miss by Carmelo Anthony, giving OKC a 97-92 lead.
As well as the Jazz played against the Thunder, they needed more help in the fourth quarter from a player like Rodney Hood or Joe Johnson, who are both out with injuries. Johnson is likely out for a little longer with his injured wrist, while Hood acknowledged Tuesday night that he’s close to coming back from his ankle injury, but doesn't know exactly when.
Houston is led by James Harden, who is having an MVP-type season, averaging 31.7 points and 9.7 assists per game, while shooting 40.5 percent from 3-point range. Eric Gordon is averaging 19.4 points per game, but has been supplanted in the starting lineup by Chris Paul, who came back from a knee injury in mid-November.
Since rejoining the team, the 32-year-old Paul has averaged 13.5 points, 9.7 assists, while shooting above 50 percent from the field and just under 50 percent from 3-point range on 17 of 36. It's no coincidence the Rockets haven't lost since Paul returned to the lineup.
Other Houston starters include Ryan Anderson (12.2 ppg) and Trevor Ariza (11.5 ppg) at forwards and Clint Capela (13.5 ppg, 11.4 rpg) at center.
In their only meeting so far this year, the Rockets blasted the Jazz 137-110 in Houston last month. The two teams will play again in Houston on Dec. 18.