Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 10:04 AM

Game 1 - Jazz at Rockets

Western Conference – Game 1
Utah at Houston (ABC, 3:35 p.m. ET)

2017-18 Regular Season (Rockets 4-0)
Feb. 26 Rockets (-1) at Jazz 96-85 (Under 212)
Dec. 18 Rockets (-12) vs. Jazz 120-99 (Over 216.5)
Dec. 7 Rockets (-6) at Jazz 112-101 (Over 211)
Nov. 5 Rockets (-6.5) vs. Jazz 137-110 (Over 204.5)

The Rockets took their first step towards a conference finals showdown with the Warriors by knocking out the eighth-seeded Timberwolves in five games of the opening round. Houston faces Utah in the conference semifinals as the Jazz return to the second round for the second straight postseason after eliminating the star-laden Thunder in six games.

Houston won all three games at Toyota Center against Minnesota, all in the role of a double-digit favorite. The Rockets covered in two of those games, including in the Game 5 clincher on Wednesday, 122-104 as 11 ½-point chalk. Houston erased a slight four-point halftime deficit by outscoring Minnesota, 67-45, as James Harden and Clint Capela combined to score 50 points for the Rockets. The Rockets drilled 18 three-pointers in the series finale, while overcoming an 0-for-8 effort from long distance by Chris Paul.

Harden had his way with the Wolves for a majority of the series as the MVP candidate averaged 29 points per game to go along with 7.4 assists per contest. The only subpar performance for the Rockets’ All-Star guard was Game 2, as Harden shot 2-of-18 from the floor, including 1-for-10 from three-point range. Harden helped the Rockets rebound from a Game 3 loss by scoring 22 points in Houston’s 50-point third quarter barrage of a 119-100 Game 4 triumph at Target Center.

Utah missed out on home-court advantage by losing the season finale at Portland, but it seemed to work out for the Jazz and not the Blazers. Portland was bounced in four games by New Orleans, while the Jazz topped the Thunder as rookie Donovan Mitchell had his coming out party in front of the national basketball audience.

The former Louisville standout posted 28.5 ppg in the six-game series against Oklahoma City, including a 38-point performance in Friday’s Game 6 clincher. The Jazz held off the Thunder, 96-91 and although they failed to cash as 6 ½-point favorites, Utah bounced back after blowing a 25-point lead in a Game 5 meltdown loss at Oklahoma City. Quin Snyder’s team is playing in the second round in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2007 and 2008, as the Jazz were swept in the semifinals last season by the Warriors.

However, the Jazz will be without the services of point guard Ricky Rubio, who is out at least 10 days with a left hamstring injury according to reports. Rubio suffered the injury in the first quarter of Friday’s win over the Thunder, as the Jazz posted a 4-1 record in the five games the Utah point guard missed this season.

The Rockets owned the Jazz this season by pulling off a four-game sweep, with all four wins coming by double-digits. One of Houston’s best offensive efforts of the season came in the first meeting with Utah at Toyota Center in early November, 137-110. Not only did the Rockets easily cash as six-point favorites, but Houston dropped a 48-point spot in the third quarter, while Harden poured in 56 points on 19-of-25 shooting from the floor.

One month later in Salt Lake City, the Rockets used a 37-point third quarter barrage to pull away from the Jazz, 112-101 to cover as six-point favorites. Harden was held to 29 points, but Ryan Anderson drilled five three-pointers and Paul put together a double-double with 18 points and 13 assists. Mitchell led Utah with 26 points, but Utah couldn’t overcome a 46-32 disadvantage on the boards.

Eleven days later and in the midst of a difficult six-game road swing, the Jazz fell to the Rockets for the third time in less than two months in a 120-99 setback. Utah had a golden opportunity to cash as hefty 12-point underdogs, as the Jazz led by five points heading into the fourth quarter. The Rockets turned on the jets in the final 12 minutes by outscoring Utah, 41-15 to grab the double-digit cover, as Eric Gordon was the catalyst off the Houston bench by hitting seven three-pointers and scoring 33 points.

In the final matchup on February 26 back in Salt Lake, the Jazz finally limited the Rockets to under 100 points, but Houston came away with a 96-85 triumph as one-point favorites. The two teams finished UNDER the total for the first time in four meetings, while the Rockets outscored the Jazz in the third quarter, 31-19 to erase five-point halftime deficit. Both teams shot 43% from the floor, while the Rockets knocked down only 9-of-33 attempts from long distance. Mitchell hit just one three-pointer in nine tries as the Jazz lost to the Rockets four times in the regular season for the first time since 1992-93.

The Rockets haven’t reached the conference finals since 2015, as Houston was bounced by San Antonio in the second round last season in six games. It’s been a hot minute for the Jazz in the conference finals, who last reached that stage in 2007 before bowing out to the Spurs in five games.

Houston and Utah haven’t met in the playoffs since 2008, as the Jazz eliminated the Rockets in six games of the first round. In fact, it was the second consecutive postseason in which Utah ended Houston’s season, as the Jazz finished off the Rockets in seven games in 2007. NBA expert Tony Mejia says the Jazz will need plenty of role players to step up if they want a chance to win, “With Rubio unavailable for Game 1, the Jazz are going to face a transition when he does return, which limits how successful they can realistically be in the series. Jae Crowder got the most time against the Thunder, but Dante Exum, Royce O’Neale and Alec Burks are all options against Houston. Exum’s length could be a major asset against Paul and Harden, while O’Neale is likely to be called upon as the starters since he’s emerged as the top two-way alternative.”

Utah is listed as a double-digit underdog in Game 1 for only the third time this season. The Jazz own an 0-2 SU/ATS mark when receiving at least 10 points with the two losses coming to Houston on December 18 and Golden State in a 25-point defeat on December 27.

The Rockets failed to produce a profit as a favorite of 10 or more points this season by compiling an 11-18 ATS mark. However, Houston posted an 0-8 ATS ledger when laying at least 14 points, while going 6-5 ATS in its last 11 opportunities as a 10-point favorite or more since early March.

You can reach Kevin Rogers via e-mail at [email protected]

Kevin Rogers can be followed on Twitter at virogers.

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