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Preview: Rockets vs. Jazz

Setting the scene for Houston's matchup with the Utah Jazz

HOUSTON - Setting the scene for Houston’s matchup with the Utah Jazz:

The Basics:

Utah Jazz (22-45) at Houston Rockets (44-22)

Point Differential:

Utah: -6.2 (NBA rank: 27th)

Houston: +4.2 (NBA rank: 8th)

Offensive Rating (points per 100 possessions):

Utah: 100.6 (23rd)

Houston: 107.9 (6th)

Defensive Rating (points allowed per 100 possessions):

Utah: 108.3 (30th)

Houston: 102.6 (10th)

Pace (number of possessions per 48 minutes):

Utah: 93.54 (27th)

Houston: 98.11 (9th)

Four Factors:

Shooting – Effective field goal percentage (eFG% is a field goal percentage that’s adjusted for made 3-pointers being 1.5 times more valuable than a 2-point shot):

Utah: 48.5% (T-20th)

Houston: 53.0% (3rd)

Turnovers – Turnover ratio (the number of turnovers a team averages per 100 possessions):

Utah: 15.5 (17th)

Houston: 16.7 (29th)

Rebounding – Rebound percentage (the percentage of total rebounds obtained)

Utah: 49.4% (20th); offensive rebound rate: 25.5% (T-16th); defensive rebound rate: 74.3% (17th)

Houston: 52.0% (4th); offensive rebound rate: 27.8% (T-5th); defensive rebound rate: 73.4% (22nd)

Free Throws – Free throw rate (the rate at which a team goes to the line relative to the number of field goals it attempts):

Utah: .268 (T-17th)

Houston: .392 (1st)

66 games into the regular season, the Rockets find themselves in unfamiliar territory. Houston has lost three in a row for the first time in its 2013-14 campaign thanks to a brutal road trip that proved to be quite a buzz kill given that the Rockets began the excursion riding high after having won 15 of its previous 17 games.

Alas, such is life in the NBA. Every other team in the league has dropped three consecutive contests at various points in the season so Houston has plenty of company in that regard (edit: the Clippers actually stand alone as the only team to have not lost three straight at any point this season). And as the two-time defending champs showed Sunday afternoon, the best and indeed only way to right the ship is to return to the win column by any means necessary. After knocking off the Rockets yesterday, no one is talking about the Heat’s five-defeats-in-six-games stretch anymore. Funny how that works. And so it must go for Houston now. Take care of business against Utah at home tonight, string together a few wins against a friendlier schedule over the next week or so, and all this current handwringing can be put in the rearview mirror – at least until the next mini crisis, of course.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Though the Jazz come into this contest dead last in the Western Conference and losers of four straight and nine of their last 10 games, the last thing Houston can do is look past its opponent. After all, Utah has already upset the Rockets once this season, and Houston had to overcome a 19-point first half deficit in its lone win over the Jazz back in November. The Rockets’ focus in such situations has typically been razor sharp in 2014 as they’ve rolled up a 15-0 mark this calendar year when facing clubs who have entered the matchup owning more losses than wins to their name. More of the same will be required tonight in order to remove the bitter taste that remains from a road trip that took the Rockets to a place they had hoped to avoid, and one that must be escaped as soon as possible.

Know Thy Enemy

- Utah is not a good offensive team, but its cadre of young talent can show significant glimpses of its rather sizable potential from time to time – as the Rockets discovered the hard way during their December defeat to the Jazz.

A quick sampler of what Utah’s youth can do:

Derrick Favors is a good pick-and-roll roll man who is dangerous on the offensive glass. His low-post game is still very much a work in progress but he’s coming off a career night (28 points) against the Spurs and during his last five games the 22-year-old is averaging 18 points, 9.4 rebounds and one block per game.

Alec Burks is crafty, can get to the line, and is good in catch-and-shoot situations (Synergy places him in the 84th percentile in that category). As is the case when defending all such shooters, Burks must be made to put the ball on the floor; he’s hit fewer than 33 percent of his off-the-dribble jump shots this season.  

Gordon Hayward has really struggled with his shot this year but remains a terrifically skilled player who can fill up the stat sheet in myriad ways. Pay particularly close attention to him on dribble hand-offs where he poses a dual threat as both scorer and playmaker while charging downhill with a head of steam.

Enes Kanter is an offensive rebounding machine. He’s already corralled five offensive boards or more five times this month – a feat he accomplished in just a single half against Houston last November. The 21-year-old still leaves a lot to be desired defensively, but his March numbers – 13.3 points and 10.4 rebounds while playing fewer than 30 minutes per contest – demand attention.

And last but not least, Trey Burke has been prone to the roller coaster ride that doubles as virtually every rookie point guard’s inaugural season, but he, too, has already given the Rockets reason to be wary. His 21-point, 6-assist, zero-turnover masterpiece last December saw him play with a poise and savvy that belied his age and experience. Houston’s defenders need to make him uncomfortable early and often, a task to which Patrick Beverley should be well suited. 

- Keen an eye on the right corner when Utah has the ball. The Jazz are shooting better than 41 percent from that location; quite a contrast from the 32.5 percent mark they’ve posted on corner 3s from the opposite end of the court. And though Richard Jefferson is in the twilight of 13-year NBA career, he’s enjoying one of his finer seasons from beyond the arc, knocking down more than 42 percent of his attempts from downtown while approaching a 50 percent hit rate from the corners (48.1 percent, to be exact).

- On the defensive end of the floor, it’s harder to find silver linings in Utah these days. The Jazz are dead last in half-court defense per Synergy, and 25th in transition. Digging deeper into the numbers, Utah is last in defending post-ups, 29th against spot-ups and isolations, and 27th when defending the pick-and-roll. If those numbers aren’t enough to get the Rockets salivating, this should put them over the edge: No team gives up more pace-adjusted paint points per game than do the Jazz.  

In the spotlight

Chandler Parsons is due. While his Florida Gators have rampaged their way through March, Parsons has now gone 10 games without reaching the 20-point plateau. During that span he’s averaging 11.4 points per game while shooting 35.7 percent from the field and just 23.5 percent from beyond the arc. He’s far too good for this rough stretch to last much longer, and a visit from Utah’s last-ranked D should help spur him out of his slump. And for what it’s worth, the last time Parsons played the Jazz (he missed Houston’s December loss due to injury) he led the Rockets in points, rebounding and assists while racking up 24, 12 and 6 in those categories respectively.

Injury Update

Greg Smith (knee) is out.

All stats courtesy of NBA.com except where otherwise noted.