The Utah Jazz face the Houston Rockets in the first round of the NBA playoffs on Sunday. The teams faced in the second round of the playoffs last season and it took some miraculous odds for their rematch to occur in the first round.
As Taylor Griffin of SLC Dunk noted, the Jazz had a lower chance of facing the Rockets in round one than the average person has of being struck by lightning.
According to @inpredict the Jazz are horribly unlucky
Utah needed just ONE of these to play POR:
MIN up 11 vs. DEN with 3:27 left: 98.7% win probability
SAC up 25 vs. POR with 8:35 in the 3rd: 98.2% win probability
HOU up 14 vs. OKC with 9:26 in the 4th: 96.1% win probability
— Conner Varney (@nbaconner) April 11, 2019
The Trailblazers played six players in that game, and Zach Collins only played 13 minutes. Portland threw out a lineup of Jake Layman, Meyers Leonard, Anfernee Simons, Gary Trent Jr. and Skal Labissiere and came back from a 25 point deficit to give Portland the third seed. Simons scored 37 points on 13-21 shooting. He hadn’t played more than 15 minutes in a game since he played 23 in a blowout preseason win against Phoenix in October.
It was a miracle.
Everything went wrong and now the Jazz face the team that eliminated them from the playoffs last season. James Harden is averaging the most points per game since Michael Jordan and the Rockets have the most efficient offense in the league since the All-Star break.
The Jazz played the best defense since the All-Star break. The second best defense? The Houston Rockets, who have been the statistically best team since the break.
Houston owned the Jazz last postseason. The Rockets won in five games and won by an average of 14 points per game. Before Jazz truthers mention that Ricky Rubio was injured for the series, Clint Capela dominated Rudy Gobert, Trevor Ariza locked down Donovan Mitchell and they only won one game in the series because Dante Exum decided to actually show up for once.
Now they come face to face again and Exum isn’t available to guard Harden because of injury. It seems like a foregone conclusion that the Rockets will advance to face mortal rivals the Golden State Warriors.
Well, that’s what the sports media seems to think:
Nice of ESPN’s The Jump (a great show) first conversation about the playoff to be is it better for the Rockets to play the Warriors earlier in the 2nd round than the conference finals.
— David Locke (@Lockedonsports) April 11, 2019
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) April 10, 2019
Did the Jazz fall off the face of the planet? Were they rocketed (wink) into outer space? The Jazz struggled with the Rockets last season, but don’t they at least deserve to be mentioned?
Ariza is gone, Rubio is available and Gobert and Mitchell have taken steps forward this season. Robert is in the running for an All-NBA spot and the Rockets still give significant minutes to people named Danuel House and Gary Clark. Austin Rivers, Kenneth Faried and Iman Shumpert are the backbone of their bench. Remember when Carmelo was on this team?
Rotations will be cut in the playoffs, but after Harden, Chris Paul, Eric Gordon and Capela, there’s not much meat on their bones. Harden is unstoppable however and Paul has an inordinate ability to murder the Jazz with banked in three pointers and hesitation dribbles.
Utah has a chance to exploit their lack of depth and focus their defense on slowing down Paul and Harden. That’s easier said than done, but Houston have shown that they’re vulnerable to shooting slumps (see: game seven, Western Conference Finals).
It would take a peak performance for the Jazz to push the Rockets to seven games, let alone win the series. It’s not impossible, and the Jazz deserve to at least be acknowledged as a potential roadblock.
Story by: Connor Sanders
Photo by Hailee Eckman (@hailsmariee on Twitter)