HOUSTON – The Houston Rockets try to take the next step in their title quest as they open up their best-of-seven western conference semifinals series against the Utah Jazz on Sunday at Toyota Center.
The Rockets made relatively easy work of the Timberwolves in round one winning the series four games to one, including three wins of 18 points or more. Interestingly, that matched their regular season matchup with the Wolves when they won all four games, including three by 18 points.
Houston would be just fine if they saw a repeat of that since they also swept their four regular season games from the Jazz.
The Jazz, led by rookie Donovan Mitchell, won a tough six-games series battle over the Thunder to advance.
Here are the keys for the Rockets in game 1.
There will be times in game one where the Jazz defense will frustrate them and create bad possessions. Houston must maintain their defensive focus during those times. The Rockets did a tremendous job of that in their series with Minnesota when they experienced long dry spells offensively.
Push the pace early
The Jazz have had almost no time to rest or prepare for the best team in the NBA. They wrapped up their series with the Thunder late on Friday night in Utah and now play an early afternoon game on Sunday in Houston.
Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors are both going to be on the floor at the same time for the Jazz a bunch against a likely undersized Rockets five. Clint Capela was incredible against Karl-Anthony Towns and Taj Gibson against Minnesota, dominating the paint both on the scoreboard and on the glass. He’ll need help, especially from P.J. Tucker and the Rockets need Gerald Green again to crash the boards in a big way. Green was the Rockets second-leading rebounder in the series against the Timberwolves.
Shoot the rock
Utah was the second-rated defense in the regular season, but the Rockets shot remarkably well in their four matchups. Houston shot nearly 40 percent on three-pointers and over 50 percent from the floor in winning all four games.
Big three play big
James Harden, Chris Paul and Capela all excelled against the Jazz and that will need to continue. Harden averaged 34 points per game, while shooting 55 percent from the floor. Paul nearly averaged a triple-double with 17 points, 8 rebounds and 10 assists per game in the three games he played against the Jazz. Capela made 70 percent of his shots and averaged 13 points, 12 rebounds and more than two blocks per game.