UTAH JAZZ (52-37) at HOUSTON ROCKETS (70-18)
Tip-off: Wednesday, 8:00 p.m. ET
Line: Houston -11, Total: 204
The Rockets showed little sign of vulnerability in Game 1 against the Jazz.Russell Westbrook took 43 shots against the Jazz in Game 6 of Utah's first round series against the Thunder, the game that ended up clinching the series for the Jazz. In Game 1 of their second round tilt against Houston, Utah was gifted no such inefficiencies, as Rockets superstar PG James Harden scored 41 points on 12-of-26 shooting (7-12 3PT) in a 110-96 Houston win that was not as close as its final score. Houston led by 25 at halftime, and still covered the game's 11.5-point spread despite losing by double digits in the second half. Together, the two team's pushed the total set at 206. The Jazz clearly missed starting PG Ricky Rubio, who sat out Game 1 with a hamstring injury and remains out indefinitely. Over the last five seasons, home favorites with winning percentages of .750 or better (HOU) are 32-14 ATS when coming off of two consecutive home wins of 10 points or more. Then again, since 1996, teams at or above the .750 mark are 21-45 ATS against winning teams when leading in a playoff series. In the last five seasons, games featuring a team that has played five games or fewer in the last 14 days and has won five or six of its last seven games (HOU) are 71-34 Under against totals between 200 and 209.5.
In six games against OKC, Rubio averaged 14.0 PPG, 7.3 RPG and 7.0 APG (averages dragged down by the seven minutes he played before leaving Game 6 with an injury) and put up a 26-11-10 triple-double in Game 3. His playmaking ability isn't nearly matched by anyone else on the Jazz roster, and the ball movement is noticeably worse when he's off the floor. SF Royce O'Neale started in his place in Game 1 against Houston, finishing with four points and four steals in 29 minutes. Rookie phenom SG Donovan Mitchell still got his, scoring 21 points (a playoff low), but shot 9-of-22 from the floor and 1-of-7 from three. Without Rubio helping him out in the backcourt, Mitchell found that easier looks were much harder to come by. SF Jae Crowder had a scoring outburst off the bench, dropping 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting. Such an effort feels like a waste in a loss, but he had 27 and eight in Game 5 against OKC—perhaps he's getting hot at the right time. C Rudy Gobert scored 11 points and nine rebounds in 35 minutes, but nine of those points and four of those rebounds came in the fourth quarter, AKA garbage time. While his presence at the rim is always a deterrent for slashers, he didn't post any blocks in the game. They'll need him to be a more impactful presence going forward. SF Joe Ingles had the excellent all-around game that Utah fans have come to expect, putting up 15 points, six rebounds and five assists. PF Derrick Favors was quiet with only five points and two rebounds in 26 minutes.
Harden looked completely unperturbed against the Utah defense, and added eight rebounds and seven assists to go with his casual 41 points. Rubio is one of the league's most underrated perimeter defenders, and his absence leaves Utah shorthanded against a player (and entire offense) that no one has figured out how to guard this season. Any number of non-Harden players can go off for big points in any given game, but the scoring was pretty evenly distributed among the supporting cast in Game 1. PG Chris Paul did a little bit of everything with 17 points, four boards, six assists and four steals (and seven turnovers). C Clint Capela continued his season-long coming out party, outplaying Gobert with 16 points and 12 rebounds. After he easily out-dueled Minnesota's Karl-Anthony Towns, Capela might be in the discussion for best true center in the NBA if he continues to neutralize Gobert—and he's still only 23 years old. SF P.J. Tucker scored 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting (3-5 3PT), and SF Trevor Ariza rounded out the starting lineup with eight points. SG Eric Gordon, normally a flamethrower off the bench, shot 0-for-6 from the field in 31 minutes. Thanks to several trips to the free-throw line, however, Gordon finished with seven points. PF Luc Mbah a Moute played 21 minutes and scored three points, hitting only one of his five shots. Given how easily the Rockets dismantled the Jazz, it's scary to think that several of their best players didn't even shoot particularly well.