Utah opens up against No. 1 Houston on Sunday afternoon. The No. 5 Jazz stunned No. 4 Oklahoma City on Friday, 96-91 to close the series in six games. Houston defeated No. 8 Minnesota in fifth games to advance to face the Jazz.
No Rubio, no problem
Utah lost point guard Ricky Rubio in the first quarter in Friday’s win over the Thunder to a hamstring injury. Rubio is expected to miss as much as two weeks, which means he’ll miss this series and would probably not play unless the Jazz makes the Western Conference finals. Rubio was averaging 14 points, 7.3 rebounds and 7.0 assists in the series.
Fortunately for Utah, they have an incredible rookie in guard Donovan Mitchell. The 6-3 wing guard took over against the Thunder, scoring 38 points, including 22 in the third quarter. Forward Joe Ingles stepped up with 14.2 points in the series and had five assists on Friday. Dante Exum could play more but the Jazz may just go with Mitchell at the point and play more Alex Burks off the bench. The Jazz protected home court against Oklahoma City, winning three games at home and the opener on the road. Against Houston, the Rockets were victorious in all four games this season.
Rockets handle their business
Everybody expects Houston against Golden State in the Western Conference finals, but the Rockets have to handle their business first. They certainly get a break with Rubio out in the second round. The Rockets struggled in two games against Minnesota in the first round, winning by just three in the opening game on April 18 and losing in Game 3 in Minnesota (121-105). But every other game was a blowout including Game 5 on April 25, with a 122-104 victory over the Timberwolves. The Rockets averaged 120.5 points in the final two games led by the best backcourt in the NBA. James Harden averaged 29 points and 7.4 rebounds in that series, while Chris Paul added 19 points and 6.6 assists.
Houston could also be getting a break by getting back forward Luc Mbah a Moute from a dislocated right shoulder in Game 1. He’s more of a defensive weapon as is center Clint Capela, who averaged 15.8 points and on 67.3 percent shooting with 14.2 rebounds in the first round series.
- 2-7 ATS last 9 vs. SW Division.
- 9-2 ATS last 11 playing on 3 or more days rest.
- 12-5 ATS last 17 vs. Western Conference.
Houston won the regular season series by an average of 17.5 points. The Jazz have an outstanding team but without Rubio, they will struggle against the Rockets. Chris Paul is an outstanding defender who can slow down Mitchell and Houston’s defense is underrated. The Rockets have covered four straight and 7 of 9 at home in this series.