NBA Playoffs 2018: Can the Jazz Beat the Rockets?
No, they can’t. The Utah Jazz cannot beat the Rockets four times in the next six games. It cannot be done. Barring a catastrophic injury for the Rockets, they will be in the Western Conference Finals. There is a reason that this team was able to handle injuries throughout the year and finish with the best record in the NBA. They are a team capable of putting up 50 points in a quarter and playing lockdown defense. They shoot a ton of three-point shots and if they are having a decent night from range, they are tough to beat. James Harden and Chris Paul are nightmare matchups for the Jazz bigs that will have no choice but to try and guard them on the perimeter and Utah's tendency to have difficulty scoring does not bode well for their chances in this series.
The evidence is the season series between these two teams and Game 1. The Rockets have beaten the Jazz five times this season. They have won every game by double digits and as much as the Thunder were a perfect matchup for the Jazz, the Rockets are the worst possible matchup. The Rockets are deep and have multiple looks that they can throw at you. They will never have two non-shooters on the floor. Clint Capela and Nene will not play together during this series, which forces the Jazz to choose between Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors. You simply cannot play this two together and cover the Rockets on offense. Spacing the floor takes away your advantage on the glass and the Rockets are going to run one of them through a high pick and roll on every possession. After getting huge minutes together against the Thunder, they played just over 13 minutes together in game one.
The Jazz are an elite defense, but their scheme is not built to handle James Harden. Rudy Gobert loves to drop back because he cannot keep up with the guards on the perimeter. In the 1st quarter of Game 1, he gets caught with Harden out at the top of the key and it turns into an easy lay-up for Harden.
If the Jazz choose to try and stay back on the pick and roll, they are opening themselves up to open looks for the supporting cast. After getting a screen from PJ Tucker, Harden realizes that Royce O'Neale is staying with him and kicks an easy pass out to PJ Tucker for a wide open three with Rudy Gobert not even close.
This leaves Utah in a tough position because not only is Harden a great decision maker with the ball, he is also really good at drawing fouls. Here, Donovan Mitchell knows that Rudy Gobert is not going to be there if he is caught on the screen so he tries to cheat and Harden easily draws the foul for three free throws.
Not all is lost for the Jazz. They are not defenseless and I am sure that head coach Quin Snyder will be ready with some adjustments for Game 2. Defensively, the Jazz are going to have to figure out what they are willing to live with in this series. Will they allow James Harden to come off screens with little resistance or will they attempt to make it more difficult on him by bringing out their big man? Will they force the Rocket role players to beat them by doubling James Harden? Snyder has some tough decisions to make defensively against a Rockets offense that truly is pick your poison.
Offensively, they are dealing with the loss of Ricky Rubio to a hamstring injury that could have him miss up to 10 days. That puts a huge burden onto Joe Ingles and Donovan Mitchell to be more involved as playmakers for the Jazz offense. The Rockets have numerous defenders that can make life difficult for them. Trevor Ariza spent the majority of his night on Donovan Mitchell and had some success. He limited Mitchell to 3 of 9 shooting and forced him into two turnovers. Mitchell finished the game with 21 points on 22 shots. Joe Ingles finished his night with 15 points on 6 of 11 shooting. The two combined for 10 assists and they are going to have to do more if they hope to compete in this series.
A key for both players will be to attack the Rockets when they switch. Here Luc Mbah a Moute switches onto Joe Ingles after a screen by Derrick Favors. Ingles immediately realizes the mismatch with Favors and puts the ball up high for him. Favors is able to make a nice play. That kind of decision making is going to be needed for the Jazz to take advantage of the Rockets defense.
Derrick Favors can be huge for the Jazz in this series. He is a skilled big man that is going to have chances to take advantage of mismatches and he has to be better. After a tough game one in which he only took 5 shots scoring 5 points, Favors has to look to be more aggressive and the Jazz guards have to find him when he gets the advantage. Houston switches everything on defense and this can lead to Favors having the opportunity to punish some of the Rocket guards. Looking at the head to head matchup data, Favors had 15 offensive possessions being guarded by Paul, Harden, Ariza, and Gordon. Out of those possessions, he scored 0 points and took just one shot. The shot was a quick jumper with James Harden on him. You can see that the Rockets are preparing for this and you can see Capela start to sneak over and Chris Paul is quick to get into the paint. I'd like to see Favors take a dribble against Harden and force him to guard. This shot bailed Houston out.
The Jazz have just run into a really tough match-up with the Rockets. Even at full strength, the Jazz would've had their hands full, but taking away Rubio is huge. I love this Jazz team and they play great basketball, but they are no match for this offensive juggernaut. They really did some great things this season and they have a bright future with their core of Gobert, Mitchell, and Ingles, but this Houston team is just too good. I like the Rockets in a clean sweep.