Houston Rockets vs. Utah Jazz Preview and Pick – 29126

Houston Rockets (55-29), +8.5, o/u 181 vs. Utah Jazz (56-28), -8.5, o/u 181, EnergySolutions Arena, Salt Lake City, Utah, 10:30 p.m. Eastern, Thursday
By Oracle of Predictem.com

After it looked like the Houston Rockets turned to a fresh, new chapter during the regular season, it’s ended up to be the same old story through their first two games of their playoff series against the Utah Jazz.

And the story doesn’t get any more joyful.

After losing twice at their home arena, 93-82 in Game 1 and 90-84 in Game 2, they will have to travel to Utah where the Jazz have the best home record in the NBA at 37-4.

It has been well documented that whatever team Tracy McGrady is on, they haven’t gone past the first round of the post-season. Many people also forgot the fact that Yao Ming was out for the season after Houston ripped off 21 straight wins.

However, as much as losing Ming didn’t affect them a whole lot during the regular season, it’s a different story in the playoffs. Add onto that the fact that point guard Rafer Alston has been out with a hamstring injury for over a week. Alston was expected to miss the first two games of the series, but the Rockets are hoping he returns for Thursday’s contest.

Utah, who covered as dogs in the first two games of the series, head into Game 3 a big -8.5 favorites. The over/under opened at 181 as well. The first two games came in under the set totals of 183 and 185.

Houston is looking to pull off exactly what Utah did to them just last season in the playoffs. The Jazz lost the first two games of the series only to bounce back and eventually take it in seven games.

The Rockets are hoping Alston returns for the simple fact that 35-year-old Bobby Jackson is having a hard time against Jazz guard Deron Williams. Jackson’s legs haven’t been there on the offensive side of the ball either, going just 10-for-32 from the field, including 3-for-13 from distance in the first two games.

McGrady has been keeping his team in each game, including coming up one assists short of a triple-double in Game 2 (23 points, 13 rebounds, 9 assists). However, he has gone cold in the fourth quarter, scoring just one point in the final 12 minutes of each of the first two games.

The Jazz have had a couple of different players step up in each of the first two games. Andre Kirilenko was huge in Game 1, scoring a team-high 21 points and playing some stellar defense on T-Mac (7-for-21 shooting).

In Game 2, Mehmet Okur was a stud, scoring 16 points and grabbing 16 boards. If the Jazz can get that out of their complimentary players, it’ll be a huge lift for them and they may not even have to pack up for to go back to Houston for Game 5.

The Rockets do have one thing going for them. Yes, they lost four out of their five games against Utah this year. But the one game they won? It was in Utah, where the Jazz have lost just four games all year long.

Of course, that win was with Yao Ming in the lineup.

The two-day rest will help Houston, and maybe bettors for that matter, as they’re 4-1 ATS in their last five after the rest.

The Rockets haven’t faired well as the dog, either, going 1-4 ATS in their last five heading in the underdog.

At the same time, though, the underdog is 5-1 ATS in the last six games in this head-to-head match up and 10-4 ATS in Utah.

The Rockets haven’t been a scoring machine late in the season, hence their 6-1 over/under record in their last seven games.

The pressure is on McGrady and the Rockets in this must-win game. Going down 3-0 to Utah would be a disaster and a clean sweep almost imminent.

Oracle’s Pick: Houston may not win this game, but they should keep it close throughout. Alston’s potential return will help them, too. Take the Rockets plus the points!