A look at how the Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets match up:
Hakeem Olajuwon, Rockets, vs. James Donaldson, Tom Chambers, Antoine Carr, Jazz: Best the Jazz can hope to do is keep Olajuwon from beating them singlehandedly. They'd rather he shoot his trademark baseline fallaway, which keeps him off the offensive boards, than shoot jump hooks in the lane. Donaldson is tall enough to get a hand in Olajuwon's face, and that helps. Edge: Rockets, by a bundle.
Karl Malone, Jazz, vs. Pete Chilcutt, Chucky Brown, Charles Johnson, Zan Tabak, Carl Herrera (maybe), Rockets: That's a lot of Rockets fouls to give. They'll probably hack the Mailman every time he looks to shoot, figuring they'll get away with some and it's preferable to have him on the line. It might also cause Malone to look for the jumper instead of going to the hoop. At least Malone should be able to avoid foul trouble guarding them, which would allow him to defend Olajuwon in clutch time. Edge: Jazz, overwhelmingly.
David Benoit, Jazz, vs. Robert Horry, Rockets: With the two mismatches above balancing each other out, this could be a deciding encounter. Benoit has played better lately, appears more confident then he did much of the season, and is a better rebounder. He needs to keep taking the open jump shot, just to keep Horry from being free to double-team Malone. Horry shot 38 percent from three-point line, and outside-shooting small forwards have hurt the Jazz this season. Edge: Jazz, barely.
Jeff Hornacek, Jazz, vs. Clyde Drexler, Rockets: Hornacek is more accurate outside shooter, but Drexler gets shot off easier. Drexler goes to the hoop well; Hornacek does it when he has to and has been effective with running shot in lane. Drexler is a good rebounder, averaging 6.5 per game. Edge: Rockets, barely.
John Stockton, Jazz, vs. Kenny Smith and Sam Cassell, Rockets: Smith averages a few more minutes, but Cassell plays more in fourth quarter. Both caused defensive problems for Stockton in playoffs last season. Houston pair combined to try more than 500 threes this season, and both can drive. Cassell is streaky player who can shoot Rockets back into game or out of game, but one way or another, makes things happen. Stockton is simply the best point guard in the NBA. Edge: Jazz.
Coaches have a tendency to cut their bench play in playoffs, so this may take some time to evaluate. Key Jazz are Carr, Chambers, Adam Keefe, Blue Edwards, and maybe Jamie Watson. Key Rockets are Cassell, Vern Maxwell, Mario Elie and all those big guys. Most dangerous bench guy is Maxwell, who can get hot. Jazz have been good all season but great when two or more bench guys have big games. Rockets have stronger guardline subs, Jazz better frontcourt reserves. Edge: Jazz.