Notebook: Rockets 100, Jazz 93

Posted Mar 20, 2013 11:37 PM

Matt Miller, for

THE FACTS: The Houston Rockets have yet to clinch a playoff berth, but they may have effectively sealed a trip to the postseason by taking out the biggest threat to their aspirations of playing beyond the middle of April.

James Harden scored 17 of his game-high 29 points at the free-throw line to lead the Rockets to a critical 100-93 victory over the Utah Jazz on Wednesday at Toyota Center. Jeremy Lin finished with 24 points on 9-for-13 shooting and six assists, while Omer Asik grabbed 12 rebounds for Houston (37-31), which moved three games clear of ninth-place Utah (34-34) in the Western Conference standings and holds the head-to-head tiebreaker should these teams finish the regular season with the same record. Houston also moved into a tie in the loss column with the sixth-place Golden State Warriors (39-31), who lost at San Antonio on Wednesday.

Gordon Hayward netted 22 of his season-high-tying 27 points in the second half and pulled down eight boards to pace the Jazz, which has lost a season-worst seven consecutive road games and 10 of 13 contests overall. Al Jefferson added a double-double of 18 points and 11 rebounds, and Paul Millsap chipped in with 16 points on 6-for-10 shooting.

QUOTABLE: "A couple of our shots weren't falling early, and we wanted to get some quick offense, which started off our defense. ... We wanted to come out here and definitely make it a fight. We watch the standings every day, and they watch the standings every day. We're fighting for our playoff lives right now."
-- Houston guard Patrick Beverley

THE STAT: Utah may have more brawn on the interior than the Rockets, but it played that way for less than six minutes. The Jazz, which entered Wednesday sixth in the NBA in offensive rebounding (12.5), mustered only two offensive boards after snatching three over the first 5:14 of the contest.

TURNING POINT: Utah looked lifeless at the beginning of the game, settling for low-percentage shots on offense and leaving holes in the lane and rotating slowly on the defensive end. The Jazz caught a break when Harden had to go to the bench after picking up his second foul, but that only delayed the inevitable. Harden returned at the start of the second quarter, with Houston leading 25-17, and the Rockets took firm control of the contest. The fourth-year shooting guard poured in 15 of Houston's first 21 points in the second period to spearhead a 21-9 run that gave the Rockets a 46-26 advantage.

QUOTABLE II: "It's very frustrating to fall behind, especially on the road. We're going to make our run, but we just can't give up those five to 10-minute pushes where they gain 20 or 25 points on us. That's just not acceptable. "
-- Gordon Hayward

HOT: Harden and Lin teamed up to torment Utah's defense in the first half, combining for 28 points on 9-for-13 shooting from the field and only two turnovers. Harden was especially dominant in the second quarter, when he netted 15 points and earned eight free-throw attempts. Houston's starting backcourt has combined for at least 50 points nine times this season, more than any other starting backcourt in the NBA.

NOT: Utah guards Mo Williams and Randy Foye could not keep up with their counterparts, as the duo combined for only 11 points on 5-for-17 shooting. Williams did not fare much better on the other end of the court, where Lin faced little resistance as he drove past him on several occasions.

GOOD MOVE: The Rockets, who had fallen into double-digit deficits in five of their last six games before Wednesday, could have thought too much about their recent slow starts and allowed the pressure to overwhelm them. Instead, Houston played freely yet within itself and never trailed for only the third time this season.

QUOTABLE III: "We set the tone early instead of laying back on our heels and letting them come at us. We really came out and were the aggressor."
-- Rockets forward Chandler Parsons

BAD MOVE: Houston became lackadaisical in the fourth quarter, which allowed the Jazz to live in the lane on both ends and disrupt the Rockets' rhythm. Before Houston knew it, a suddenly inspired Utah squad cut its deficit to five points. The Rockets were able to weather the storm and hang on, but the lack of killer instinct in such an important game could be a cause for concern moving forward.

NOTABLE: Utah last lost seven consecutive road games Dec. 4-19, 2007. ... The Jazz has not defeated a winning team on the road since it beat the Nets on Dec. 18 in Brooklyn. ... Harden shot 17-for-18 at the free-throw line. ... Lin has scored at least 20 points in three consecutive games. ... Houston improved to 19-5 this season when it limits its opponent to less than 100 points. ... The Rockets held the Jazz to a season-worst 33 points before halftime. ... Hayward has averaged 25.7 points on 63.4 percent (26-for-41) shooting in his last three trips to Toyota Center. ... Utah fell to 4-16 on the road this season against Western Conference opponents.

UP NEXT: For the Jazz: Friday @ San Antonio, Sunday @ Dallas, Monday vs. Philadelphia. For the Rockets: Friday vs. Cleveland, Sunday vs. San Antonio, Wednesday vs. Indiana.