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Houston Rockets vs. Utah Jazz: Preview, Analysis and Predictions

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 12:  Jeremy Lin #7 (L) and James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets react to a call against the Miami Heat at the Toyota Center on November 12, 2012 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistNovember 19, 2012

The Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz are set to square off in what will be the battle of two NBA teams we expected more from.

Once the Rockets acquired James Harden and opened the season by winning their first two games, expectations soared. Since then, however, Houston has lost six of its last eight, on its way to disproving the notion it could become an instant powerhouse.

Utah is in the same boat as well. Despite boasting a deeper and more talented roster than last season, the Jazz find themselves under .500 and struggling to compete with playoff caliber teams.

As a result, both of these squads are positioned near the bottom of their respective divisions and will look to begin to right an ever-growing list of wrongs when they face each other Monday night.

 

Time: Monday, November 19th, 9 p.m. ET

TV: NBA League Pass

Records: Houston Rockets (4-6), Utah Jazz (5-6)

Betting Line: Jazz -8

 

Injuries (via CBSSports.com)

Rockets: Carlos Delfino (groin), questionable.

Jazz: Earl Watson (knee), questionable.

 

Key Storyline: Who are the Houston Rockets?

After holding an essential fire sale during the offseason, no one expected much from the Rockets.

However, expectations rose after the Harden acquisition, helped along by Houston's first two games. But it has been anything but smooth sailing since.

Not only have the Rockets been host to a series of up-and-down performances, but they're actually toiling with our impressions of them on a nightly basis.

One night they're within a breath of victory over the Miami Heat, while the next, they're being pummeled by a Portland Trail Blazers team with a bench shallower than theirs.

Such inconsistencies are not indications that we're in the presence of a playoff team, but rather, in the midst of one still searching for an identity outside the beadered wonder, which was to be expected at this juncture.

However, while a healthy dose of trials and tribulations could have been forecasted, Houston needs to at least begin to find itself soon if it wishes to keep its currently waning postseason hopes alive.

 

Key Matchup: Omer Asik, C, Rockets vs. Al Jefferson, C, Jazz

We really must give an honorable mention to Asik vs. the entire low-post core Utah currently possesses.

Though Asik has had performances to forget, he continues to average a double-double and up until Houston's bout with the Los Angeles Lakers, had scored 14 or more points in each of the Rockets' last four contests.

The towering center clearly still has a ways to go offensively, but he has become more aggressive, which has opened things up for Harden and Jeremy Lin more at times.

That said, Houston needs him to continue to play stellar defense and crash the glass hard. The Jazz are four deep in the post and are currently fourth in the league with 46.1 rebounds hoarded per game.

Which brings us to Jefferson.

Utah's starting center hasn't had the offensive explosion many anticipated him to have, but he does lead his team in rebounds thus far this season. 

Plus, outside of him, Asik still has to contend with the likes of Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter.

Houston doesn't have a strong post defender or rebounder not named Asik, setting the stage for Jefferson and company to run wild on both ends of the floor.

And should the Jazz win the interior battle, there's a strong chance they'll emerge victorious here.

 

X-Factors

Patrick Patterson, PF, Rockets

As I mentioned, Houston is not laden with talented post defenders, which means someone aside from Asik is going to have to step up.

Enter Patterson.

Like the Rockets, Patterson is having a roller coaster ride of a season. Some nights he'll drop 15 points, while others he'll disappear into oblivion.

The latter will not be acceptable Monday night.

Not only does Houston need him to defend some of Utah's bigs with aggression he has yet to show, but it certainly needs a strong offensive output from him to have a puncher's chance in this bout.

If he can step up his game on both ends of the floor, this one should get interesting.

 

Paul Millsap, PF, Jazz

Whether you like Asik or not, you're going to have to admit that Jefferson is going to have his hands full in this one, thereby increasing the importance of Millsap.

Though Millsap leads his team in scoring, his 15.7 points per night are significantly less than what he averaged in each of his last two seasons. Yes, he's attempting less shots per game, but the Jazz need him to be much more aggressive here.

We cannot stress enough how thin the Rockets are in the paint defensively. Millsap needs to bully weaker defenders like Patterson and Marcus Morris, ensuring he puts up 20-plus so that Utah may once again reach .500.

Should Millsap fail to impress, though, the Jazz's quest for victory will be anything but impeded.

 

Marcus Morris, PF, Rockets

It's not just that Morris will have to defend the likes of Utah's core-four off the bench. As the Rockets' leading bench scorer, he has a statistical obligation to lead what has been an underwhelming charge this season.

The Jazz have three players in Randy Foye, Derrick Favors and Marvin Williams who average nine or more points off the pine. Houston has just one in Morris.

We've witnessed the sophomore's liability to explode on offense on more than occasion, but he must ensure tonight is one of those occasions.

On paper, the Rockets are overmatched in nearly ever facet of this game, yet a strong performance off the bench from Morris could mean the difference between a blowout and a nail-biter for Houston.

 

Randy Foye, PG, Jazz

Though Foye has put plenty of points on the board for Utah this season—10.6 for the year—he is shooting an erratic 37.8 percent from the field.

The backup floor general has also proved to be a major defensive liability at times, which hasn't helped the Jazz's defensive cause, as they're allowing 97.5 points per game.

Monday, Foye will spend an ample amount of time being defended by Toney Douglas, one of the best perimeter defenders there is. The opposing point guard is also great at attacking the rim, which will leave Foye exposed off the dribble as well.

For the Jazz to ensure they reach the .500 mark yet again this season, they need Foye to improve his efficiency on both ends of the floor.

Going up against Douglas, however, makes such a task anything but easy.

 

Depth Charts

Rockets

 

Jazz

 

Prediction: Jazz 96, Rockets 87

Houston continues to lack an identity outside the put-the-ball-in-Harden's-hands approach.

While players like Asik and Chandler Parsons have stepped up, others like Lin continue to struggle. It also doesn't help that this squad is coming off an overwhelmingly fast-paced game against the Lakers and are bound to be fatigued coming on.

Let us not forget that the Rockets are severely overmatched down low as well. Asik is the only big man on Houston's docket who stands a chance going up against guys like Jefferson, Millsap, Kanter and Favors—all four of whom are averaging at least 9.5 points per game.

Yes, Harden will continue to get his against a lackluster perimeter defense, but that won't be enough.

The Jazz possess depth the Rockets can only dream about, and their record does not adequately reflect the team they truly are. Bear in mind that seven of their first 11 games have come against 2012 playoff teams, and they've won three of the four against ones that weren't.

Houston sorely needs to put together a sizable string of wins and begin the climb back to .500, but that ultimately won't happen here.

Not against an equally hungry, and deeper, Utah team.

 

 

All stats in this article are accurate as of 11/19/12.

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