Utah Jazz vs. Houston Rockets Pick
Utah Jazz (50-32, 44-36-2 ATS) vs. Houston Rockets (53-29 SU, 40-39-3 ATS)
When: Sunday, April 14th, 2019 – 9:30 p.m. ET
Where: Toyota Center, Houston, Texas
Point Spread: UTA +6.5 / HOU -6.5 (MyBookie Sportsbook)
Total: O/U 214
Last Time Out: Utah lost to Los Angeles (Clippers) 143-137; Houston lost to Oklahoma City 112-111
This matchup will be between the 4th seeded Houston Rockets, and the 5th seeded Utah Jazz. Both teams eclipsed the 50 mark in wins, so it is safe to say these teams are relatively evenly matched. They have much different play styles, which I will get into, but just know that this is a series that I believe could go either way.
Coming into this game, both teams will have received three days of rest. This season Houston is 1-3 straight up and 0-4 against the spread on three days of rest. Utah is 3-1 straight up and 2-2 against the spread in the same scenario.
Notable injuries include Clint Capela for the Rockets and Donovan Mitchell for the Jazz. Capela is dealing with an illness but is expected to play. Mitchell is dealing with a thoracic spasm and is questionable for game one.
Defense Wins Championships:
Just as the sub-title states, the Jazz will be looking to win this game through their defense. They are 4th in the league in points allowed (106.5), 8th in field goal percentage (45.2%), and 2nd in rebounds allowed (42.6). This will start with slowing down Harden. Now Harden is pretty much un-guardable, but he is not immune to having a bad shooting night. Get this, in the two wins over the Rockets this season, Harden had 29 and 15. In these two games combined, Harden shot 15 of 35 (42.9%) from the field and 5 of 12 (41.7%) from the three-point line. If you compare this to the two losses to the Rockets, you will see that Harden had 47 and 43 in these two games, shot 26 of 53 (49.1%) from the field and 8 of 24 (33%) from the three-point line. This is obviously a vast difference in points, which shows the importance of limiting Harden. Whether this means doubling him or just throwing bodies at him to slow him down, the Jazz must hold Harden under the 30-point mark.
Obviously, there are two sides to a basketball game, so let’s look at the Jazz offense. Donovan Mitchell is the leader for the team, there is no questioning that fact. He averages 23.8 points per game this season and more specifically is averaging 25.8 against the Rockets. After Mitchell, the next leading scorer is Rudy Gobert. He is averaging 15.9 points per game, but more importantly, he averages 12.9 rebounds per game. Gobert is a big reason why the Jazz are 9th in the league in rebounds per game (46.4). Gobert will likely be matched up with Clint Capela, which means he must be extra aggressive on the boards and considering the Rockets are one of the worst rebounding teams in the NBA (42.1 rebounds per game), Gobert should have a slight advantage.
Houston We Have A Problem:
When I say, “We have a problem” I am not questioning the skill level of the Rockets because it is clear they are a top team. No, I am talking more about where they finished in the West. Losing in the season finale dropped the Rockets to the 4th seed and probably gave them a more favorable matchup with Utah. However, this means they will meet the Warriors in round two should they make it past the Jazz. This is where I am a little concerned. Knowing the Rockets, I feel as if they will be looking ahead to a series with the Warriors and will not give Utah the credit they deserve. This is where Houston could lose a game or two because they are not entirely focused on their current opponent. Maybe I am wrong, and they go out and smack the Jazz around, but I still do not trust the Rockets to be fully focused on the task in front of them.
Now for as much as the Rockets can score, they are only 11th in the league in scoring (113.9 points per game). This has to do with the fact that the Rockets are known to live or die by the three-pointer. They are not even the greatest at shooting the three (35.6%, 12th in the league). Whether their shots are falling or not, I expect the Rockets to shoot an excessive number of threes, which could help or hinder their chances to win this game.
These teams split their four games this season, each winning on their own court and on each other’s court. The Rockets won the last two meetings in a row, so they have had the Jazz’s number over the past few months. I like the Jazz to cover in this first game with my pick since their defense is among the top in the league.