Utah Jazz vs Houston Rockets: Lineups, preview & prediction 4/29/18
The Rockets disposed of the Timberwolves with ease, but will have a harder job getting rid of the in form Utah. Game 1 of the series will kick off on Sunday.
As expected, the Rockets did it pretty easily against the Timberwolves. Despite winning the series 4-1 though, they will see plenty of room to improve, and they will need to given the form of their Round 2 opponent.
Led by star rookie Donovan Mitchell, the Jazz were able to dispose of Westbrook, George and the Thunder in six games. The win reflected a team which won 18 of 24 games since the All-Star break, and is now 22-8 in their past 30 games.
Houston will head into this series as favorites, but they will not get it all their own way. With Rudy Gobert guarding the paint, Utah are the best defensive side in the league, and their offense can more than hold its own. The Rockets will be keen to start the series off with a win at home and maintain their home court advantage.
Three keys to the game
Rubio’s absence – Ricky Rubio strained a hamstring in Game 7 against the Thunder and will miss at least two games in this series. He was a major part of their Round 1 series win, and his presence allowed Mitchell to play more off the ball and focus on scoring. Excluding the game in which he injured his hamstring early, Rubio averaged 16.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 7.8 assists, so his absence will be felt strongly by Utah.
Turnovers – The Rockets excelled at taking care of the ball against the Timberwolves, averaging just 8.4 turnovers per game throughout the series – well below their 13.8 per game in the regular season. In contrast, the Jazz were a little sloppier, giving it up 15.2 times a night against the Thunder.
Donovan Mitchell – Mitchell showed what he’s made of with a fantastic debut playoff series. He scored at least 22 points a night and averaged 28.6 points a game. The Jazz have far fewer offensive weapons than the Rockets, and if they want to win this game, it’s imperative that their star rookie puts up some big numbers on the offensive end.
Matchup to watch
Rudy Gobert vs Clint Capela – Against the Timberwolves, Capela was effective on the offensive end in a couple of games, scoring 26 points on 12-for-14 shooting in Game 5 and 24 points on 10-for-15 shooting in Game 1. He averaged less than 10 points in the other three games, though, and Gobert will hope to keep him to similarly low numbers in this game.
Gobert himself had a solid impact at the offensive end of the floor in Utah’s Round 1 series, averaging 16.8 points. If he can be similarly impactful on offense in this game, and prevent Capela from getting easy looks from Harden and Paul, it will give Utah a good chance.
Houston Rockets predicted starting lineup
PG – Chris Paul | SG – James Harden | SF – Trevor Ariza | PF – PJ Tucker | C – Clint Capela
Utah Jazz predicted starting lineup
PG – Donovan Mitchell | SG – Joe Ingles | SF – Jae Crowder | PF – Derrick Favors | C – Rudy Gobert
Harden received criticism after going 2-for-18 from the field in Game 2 against Minnesota, but his series in the whole was impressive. In it, he averaged 29 points, 7.4 assists, 2.4 steals and 1.2 blocks. In four games against Utah this season, he put up 34.3 points per game on 55.4% shooting, grabbed 6.3 rebounds, dished out 6.8 assists, and added 2.3 steals.
The Jazz have been given an 11 point head start, and they should be able to cover this line relatively easily. Houston are the better side and have made a habit of beating teams by big margins, but the Jazz are a different proposition to the Timberwolves. Few sides have beaten Utah at all in the last few months, let alone by a double-figure margin, so the away side to cover this line is a good bet.
This game will be much closer than the oddsmakers are predicting. Gobert will stifle the Rockets in the paint, preventing Capela from getting points at the rim and forcing Harden to score the vast majority of his points at the perimeter. Fortunately for Houston, the likely MVP is good at scoring out there, and along with the rest of his star shooters will pour in enough buckets to get the job done. Houston will start off the series with a 106-100 win at home.
The game will be broadcast nationally on ABC. Tip-off is at 3:30pm ET.