Jazz isn’t going to make the playoffs, but they’re definitely playing like a playoff-level team. That’s why some might be surprised to see a short 1-point difference on the NBA odds in this one.
The Houston Rockets Can Win Because…
Their best player is good enough to break down the Utah defense. The Jazz have been so good over the past month because they’ve played fantastic defense. Utah very rarely gives up anything over 95 points, let alone 100. The Jazz are locked in at that end of the court right now, so it’s very reasonable to think that Houston will be just the latest team to get shut down by Utah.
However, Utah’s high-impact defensive player is Rudy Gobert, a center who patrols the paint and protects the rim. Houston’s offensive force is James Harden, and while it’s very much the case that Harden gets plenty of points when going to the rim and trying to draw fouls that will get him to the free throw line, he is also a quality long-distance shooter who has a more than adequate mid-range game, complete with an ability to hit floaters inside 10 feet from the basket. Harden’s skills are going to be the kinds of things Gobert can’t easily defend, and that’s going to be a big reason the Rockets can break through the Jazz’s defense.
What should also be said about this game is that Houston has handled losing teams very well over the past month and a half. Houston’s last loss to a team with a losing record came on January 31 against the Detroit Pistons. All of the Rockets’ losses since then have come to teams with winning records, and only one of those winning teams is from the weaker Eastern Conference. That team is the Atlanta Hawks, the best team in said Eastern Conference. Houston takes care of lesser teams, so the Rockets should be fine here.
The Utah Jazz Can Win Because…
They're playing incredible defense and bear very little resemblance to the team which existed early in the season and started 17-33. That team is gone. This team, with Rudy Gobert getting more minutes and being much more of a force at center, is 10-3. The Jazz have been exceptionally good at the defensive end of the floor with Gobert in the mix. How good? Utah has allowed more than 90 points in only two of its past 13 games. The Jazz have allowed more than 96 points only once. Aside from a 100-point game conceded to the Los Angeles Lakers, this team has made virtually no defensive mistakes. Gobert is eating up space and protecting the rim. The rest of the team is helping out with its responsibilities on the perimeter. The pieces are coming together for this team.
Also realize that Utah isn’t winning games against bad teams. The Jazz are beating a number of good teams, and what’s more is that they’re shutting them down: 82 points allowed to Memphis in a road win against the Grizzlies; 81 allowed to San Antonio in a home win; 76 allowed to Portland before the Wes Matthews injury in a home win against the Blazers. This team is a 27-win team, but it’s playing like a 50-win team right now.
The Jazz are very impressive right now, but Houston just doesn’t lose to teams such as Utah. On the season, the Rockets are 21-3 when facing a team with a losing record. Since you get them as a dog in this spot, take them with your NBA picks.
Free NBA Pick: Houston at The Greek