The Rockets new super-small ball experiment gets a real test when they host the Jazz Sunday night. The strategy didn’t get off to a great start after a blowout loss to the Suns last time out, so can Houston turn it around against the stingy Rudy Gobert and Co.?
We preview the betting odds and give our favorite picks and predictions for this clash of Western Conference contenders.
UTAH JAZZ AT HOUSTON ROCKETS (-3.5, 232.5)
The Rockets had a four-game winning streak come to an end in the 127-91 loss to the Suns, and the new lineup did not get out to a good start.
The Rockets are the second-highest first quarter scoring team in the NBA, but were outscored 46-26 in the opening frame against the Suns before fighting back in the second and running out of gas down the stretch.
Meanwhile, Utah limits its opponents to just 26.6 first quarter points per game, sixth best in the NBA. We’re predicting another slow start for the micro-Rockets against one of the toughest defenses in the NBA.
Pick: Jazz First Quarter Moneyline (+140)
The Jazz are coming off a controversial 117-114 win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday that snapped a five-game slide. In that win, the officials missed a blatant goaltend that sealed the win for the Jazz.
A shocking problem for the Jazz over the last six games has been their defense. They have allowed 115.8 points per contest over the last six games. That’s up from their season average of 107. Which is not something you expect to see from Quinn Snyder’s squad.
That said, we’re betting the Jazz will try to establish themselves in the paint on both ends of the floor in this one, where they should have a literal sizeable advantage over the Rockets.
At the same time, the Jazz are second to last when it comes to first half scoring on the road. Because of this we like the first half to stay Under the number.
Pick: First Half Under 113.5
While the Jazz are struggling, Gobert is in the middle of one of the best stretches of his career. The first time All-Star (that’s still hard to believe), hasn’t grabbed fewer than 10 rebounds in a game since Dec. 28. In the 19 game stretch since, he is averaging 16.7 points and 15.1 rebounds per game. In one other game against Houston this year, Gobert snatched 14 boards while adding 12 points. We like him to have a big game against the Rockets and eclipse his points + rebounds total.
Pick: Rudy Gobert Over 32.5 Points + Rebounds
FULL GAME TOTAL
The total of 233 seems pretty high for a game involving the Jazz, but that’s just how off they’ve looked on the defensive end. Additionally, when these two teams met back on Jan. 27, they easily went Over the 220.5 total in a 126-117 Rockets win.
That was a weird game though. Neither James Harden or Russell Westbrook played, and the Rockets were led by Eric Gordon, who went off for 50 points on 14-of-22 from the floor, including 6-for-11 from 3-point range. Now, Harden and the red-hot Westbrook are expected to play in this one and Gordon is questionable with a leg injury.
Now, Russ may be on fire (33.4 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 8.2 assists per game over his last 12 contests), but he’s still doing most of his damage on the inside and in transition, where theoretically the Jazz should be good. They still rank seventh in opponent 2-point shooting percentage.
With the Jazz being just a middle of the pack team when it comes to scoring on the road, we think this total is a tad too high.
Pick: Under 232.5
FULL GAME SIDE
The Rockets have done something really intriguing here. They have pretty much said “f#$% it,” we don’t need a center, or a power forward for that matter. We’re just going to run the ball down the court and jack up as many threes as possible, try and stop us. The first night didn’t go so well. Obviously, there will be nights that go better, but it might not be Sunday.
The Jazz, despite their struggles, are still one of the best teams in the league at defending the perimeter. They limit opponents to just 34.3 percent from deep, that’s sixth best in the NBA. With what should be the Jazz’s ability to guard both the paint and the arc, mixed with their edge on the glass, we like getting the points with the road team.
Pick: Jazz +3.5