HOUSTON – Sunday night at the Toyota Center, the Houston Rockets will begin their 2019 playoff quest for 16 wins and the franchise’s third NBA title.
Their first hurdle is getting past Utah, whom they eliminated in the conference semifinals last season.
The two teams split their four-game season series, with Houston winning each of the two most recent games, not so coincidentally, coinciding with the Rockets upgrading their roster over the course of the season.
Keys to winning game 1 for the Rockets:
More Chris Paul - Last year in the Rockets conference semifinal triumph over the Jazz, Paul was second on the team in scoring (24.6 points per game), he was second on the team in rebounding (7.0 rebounds per game) and second on the team in assists (6.2 assists per game.) His ability to knock down shots from the midrange and find those shots as Jazz closed out on the shooters was invaluable in the Rockets making quick work of Utah. The Jazz haven’t changed how they want to do things defensively and will encourage the Rockets to take those shots. They’ll plan to prevent Houston from getting all the way to basket for easy finishes because of their great rim protection with Rudy Gobert. If Paul and others are knocking down those atypical shots for the Rockets offense, Utah will have no chance.
Pick up the pace - As Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni noted Saturday, they need to push the pace against Utah and avoid running the shot clock down repeatedly. That plays into the hands of the strong Jazz defense. Nothing truly needs to change with how the Rockets like to operate the offense, same sets, same rotations, just look to make something happen a little more quickly that they might against other, lesser opposition.
Be the aggressor early at home - Road teams tend to have a little extra juice to tip off a postseason series. The Rockets only make it harder on themselves if they allow the Jazz to get out to an early lead or a strong shooting start. Houston has been exceptional at home, going 31-6 at Toyota Center after starting the season 0-4. Again, this is the playoffs and not much from the regular season carries over, but one thing the Rockets rarely do is let the first 12 minutes go by without getting a good offensive effort from Harden, who led the NBA in first quarter scoring at 9.6 points per first quarter - a full point better than any other player. Even more telling about the Rockets usual strong starts - both he and Paul ranked in the top 10 in assists in the first quarter.
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