The Utah Jazz are coming into this postseason the same way we all expected they would. In their usual, physical, smashmouth, defense-first kind of play. They aren’t playing with a very fast pace, they aren’t scoring the most points compared to everyone else, but they are restricting teams to the fourth least amount of points per game which is good enough for the second best defensive rating.
Six players averaging double-digit points per game with Donovan Mitchell leading the way at 23.8. They’ve been red hot coming into the playoffs boasting an 18-7 record after the All-Star break.
Utah’s opponent might be one of the most documented offenses around the league because it stars none other than James Harden. The Houston Rockets, with the MVP candidate, have possessed a deadly offense that thrives off of threes and free throws. They have made and attempted the most threes across the league and they have made the third most amount of free throws.
Harden is going to be the biggest obstacle for the Jazz to face with his season stat line of 36, seven, and seven. He’s been able to score from every level of the floor, find open teammates, and control entire games just by the flick of his wrist. Yes, he sounds magical like a wizard and he has a beard like a wizard, so he may very well be a wizard, but I’m not qualified to say for sure.
On top of that, he has an All-Star backcourt mate in Chris Paul and a team that’s built to his exact likes.
Game 1: @ Houston (Sunday, April 14 — 9:30 p.m. EST, TNT)
Game 2: @ Houston (Wednesday, April 17 — 9:30 pm. EST, TNT)
Game 3: @ Utah (Saturday, April 20 — 10:30 p.m. EST, ESPN)
Game 4: @ Utah (Monday, April 22 — 10:30 p.m. EST, TNT)
Game 5: @ Houston (Wednesday, April 24 — If Necessary)
Game 6: @ Utah (Friday, April 26 — If Necessary)
Game 7: @ Houston (Sunday, April 28 — If Necessary)
How Can They Succeed?
Use their suffocating defense and turn it into instant offense, and limit their own turnovers. We’ve seen what happens to James Harden when he’s forced to turn the ball over a lot. He crumbles then the entire team crumbles. This season, however, the Rockets have been good with their ball control. They are sixth in the league at limiting their own turnovers.
Utah is going to have to figure out how to force the Rockets into plays that they want them to have rather than the other way around. Force them to make them the passes and take the shots that play into their defense instead of letting Harden become a maestro.
On the offensive end, Utah is near the bottom of the league in turnovers. They average 15.1 per game and against a team like Houston who continually plays passing lanes and ranks fifth in the league in steals, that’s going to be very problematic.
Who is their X-Factor?
The people’s champ, Joe Ingles! His shooting and his defense on the wing is going to be very important for this team as it always is. How will he be able to help on Harden and how will he be able to hit open jumpers off of Ricky Rubio or Donovan Mitchell assists. This season he averaged 12.1 points and 5.7 assists per game while shooting 39.1% from three. That’s going to be important, as well as his 1.2 steals per game coming into this contest.
One positive stat in their favor
Team assists and field goal percentage is the biggest thing that stands out about this team after their defense. Three of their starting five averages four or more assists per game and the team is ranked eighth in the league with 26 per game. That paired with a team field goal percentage of 46.8%, good enough for tenth in the league, is what’s going to get them through the first round and beyond.