The Utah Jazz will take on the Houston Rockets in game one in Houston on Sunday, a rematch of last year’s Western Conference second round, in which the Jazz were eliminated in five games.
There are some differences in this series, with Ricky Rubio back, and healthy (maybe?) for the Jazz, after missing all of the series last year. Rubio hasn’t played in four of the Jazz past five games, and will have been off the court for an entire week when the Jazz take the floor late Sunday. The Jazz sorely missed Rubio’s playmaking last year, placing that weight on the rookie shoulders of Donovan Mitchell, and it left the team’s offense stagnant.
While the Jazz add Rubio, the Rockets have lost Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, who were responsible for guarding Mitchell last year in the playoffs. Ariza has traditionally given Mitchell problems, and his absence may open things up for Mitchell attacking the rim that weren’t there last year. Rubio’s presence should help as well.
The Jazz mostly struggled last year with Chris Paul, who averaged 24 points, seven rebounds and six assists last year for the Rockets, on super efficient 48/44/84 shooting numbers. The Jazz committed to stopping James Harden last season, led by Dante Exum, but allowed Paul to beat them in a two man game with Clint Capella, in a matchup that largely negated the value of Rudy Gobert.
Quin Snyder will have to draw up a game plan with a healthier team that allows the Jazz to still limit Harden, without Exum, while protecting the penetration from Paul. That dynamic, along with Harden being one of the best isolation players in league history are the reason the Rockets are legit championship contender.