It’s been more than two months since the Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets last played each other on Feb. 2, but as the two squads get ready for their first-round playoff series, both rosters are the same as they were then, save for some rather inconsequential changes at the bottom of Houston’s.
Here’s a look at how the teams match up heading into their playoff series.
James Harden and Chris Paul comprise one of the best backcourts in the NBA, with Harden an MVP candidate alongside Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo. Together, Harden and Paul average nearly 52 points and 16 assists per game.
The Jazz’s backcourt situation is somewhat in question, as Ricky Rubio has been sidelined with a knee injury and his status moving forward is uncertain. Donovan Mitchell is Utah’s star, making his matchup with Harden one to watch.
If Rubio is unable to go and if Jazz head coach Quin Snyder holds true to form, Mitchell would start at point guard and Royce O’Neale at shooting guard. While Utah would be without Rubio’s playmaking, O’Neale is an excellent defender.
Houston starts three guards, as the 6-foot-4 Eric Gordon plays alongside Harden and Paul. He averaged 16.2 points this season and shot 36 percent from behind the 3-point line. PJ Tucker starts at the other forward spot, and while he’s just 6-foot-6, he’s similar to the Jazz’s Jae Crowder, as he weighs 245 pounds and shoots plenty of 3-pointers, averaging 4.7 tries per game (he made nearly 38 percent this season).
Utah certainly has the size advantage with Joe Ingles (6-foot-8) and Derrick Favors (6-foot-10). The question with the Jazz becomes how much Snyder will try to use Favors’ size at power forward and how much he’ll go with Crowder alongside starting center Rudy Gobert. Against the Rockets, Snyder has typically started Crowder and used Favors exclusively as his backup center.
Utah’s Rudy Gobert and Houston’s Clint Capela are similar in their skill sets as athletic big men who can defend the rim, run, finish well and block shots but not shoot from any significant distance. In the playoff series between the two teams last year, Capela was better than Gobert, but Gobert has been a better player this season.
There are some interesting names among Houston’s reserves, including Austin Rivers, Gerald Green, Kenneth Faried, Nene and Iman Shumpert. Rivers and Green can be good shooters, and Faried can still provide rebounding and toughness inside.
Depending on injuries, the Jazz have more depth on their bench. That being said, the unit is pretty banged up at the moment, and it’s unclear who will be available. Raul Neto and O’Neale will be the primary backcourt options (assuming health to Neto and Rubio). Kyle Korver has been dealing with right knee soreness, although there’s been no indication he’ll miss any of the playoffs.
Up front, depth will depend on who starts at power forward. If it’s Favors, Crowder will get the bulk of the backup minutes. If it’s Crowder, Thabo Sefolosha and Georges Niang will. Derrick Favors will be the primary backup center.
Jazz head coach Quin Snyder and the Rockets’ Mike D’Antoni are rather different from a personality standpoint, with Snyder more high-strung and D’Antoni more laid-back. The two have both been successful, however, with multiple playoff appearances on their resumes.
One question surrounding D’Antoni is his health, as he missed Houston’s season finale after being hospitalized because of illness. All reports have indicated that he will be back for the playoffs, but will he be compromised?
The Jazz have a few positional advantages, but the Rockets have been outstanding over their last 55 games and Harden has been incredible once again this season. Will last year’s 4-1 playoff series victory by Houston prove to be a preview of this season’s series?15 comments on this story
NBA Western Conference Quarterfinals
No. 4 Houston Rockets vs. No. 5 Utah Jazz
- Game 1: Sunday, 7:30 p.m. at Houston, ATTSN/TNT
- Game 2: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. at Houston, ATTSN/TNT
- Game 3: Saturday, April 20, 8:30 p.m. at Salt Lake City, ATTSN/ESPN
- Game 4: Monday, April 22, 8:30 p.m. at Salt Lake City, ATTSN/TNT
- Game 5: Wednesday, April 24, TBD, at Houston, TBD, if necessary
- Game 6: Friday, April 26, TBD at Salt Lake City, TBD, if necessary
- Game 7: Sunday, April 28, TBD at Houston, TBD, if necessary