Utah Jazz (54-28) +1, 187 at Houston Rockets (55-27), 9:30 pm Eastern Saturday, ESPN
by Zman of Predictem.com

The Utah Jazz tip off the 2008 NBA post-season with a visit with the Houston Rockets in an exact rematch of this Western Conference 4 seed vs. 5 match-up of last season, beginning with game 1 Saturday night at the Toyota Center.

NBA Bookmakers list Houston as one-point home favorites for Saturday’s game, with an over/under of 187. But most places also list Utah as about 2/1 choices to win this playoff series, with the Rockets, who have home-court advantage despite being the lower seed, getting around +180.

This was the exact situation last season, when these two teams met in the first round of the playoffs, with Houston owning home-court advantage. And home court held serve through the first six games, until the Jazz won game seven in H-Town to take the series.

This season, Utah took two of three games from the Rockets, winning 97-89 in January and 105-96 last Monday. But the Rockets beat the Jazz in Salt Lake City back in November 106-95, one of only four home losses Utah suffered this year.

So over the course of the last 10 meetings in the series between these two teams, all played within the last calendar year, the Jazz won six times. And the o/u went 5-5 in those 10 games, which averaged a rather low 183 total points per.

Also, in the three games these two teams played this season, Utah outshot Houston from the field 47% to 44%, and outrebounded the Rockets by a 45-39 per-game average.

The Jazz went 46-36 against the spread this season, and 17-24 both straight up and vs. the numbers on the road.

Meanwhile, Houston went 47-33 ATS this season, 31-10 SU and 24-15 vs. the numbers at home.

Utah made it all the way to the Western Conference finals last season before falling to the eventual league champion San Antonio Spurs. On the other side of the history of this match-up, the Rockets haven’t made it past the first round of the playoffs since 1997.

Statistically speaking, the Jazz ranked 4th in the league this season in point differential at +6.9 per game, shot just under 50% from the floor as a team, which ranked 2nd, 37% from 3-point range and 76% from the free-throw line, ranked 17th in the league in FG defense at 46% and 3rd in rebounding at +3.1 per game.

Houston ranked 9th in the league in point differential at +4.7 per game, shot 45% from the field, 34% from long range and 73% from the line, and ranked 2nd in the league in both FG defense at 43% and rebounding at +4.0 per game.

The Sagarin ratings at USAToday.com ranks Utah 4th at 96.5, the Rockets 7th at 95.2. Sagarin’s home-court advantage figure ended the regular season at 3.5.

On the injury front, Houston guard Rafer Alston (13 pts., five rebs., four assists per game this season) is out for at least the first couple of games of this series after pulling a hammy last week. And forward Shane Battier (nine pts., five rebs. PG) has been bothered by a sore ankle. On the other side, Jazz guard Deron Williams (19 pts., 11 rebs. PG) sat out the second half of the season finale Wednesday with a sore back. But he’s listed as probable for Saturday’s game.

Zman’s Pick: I like Utah to take game 1!