SALT LAKE CITY — It’s official: In a rematch of the second round of the 2018 playoffs, the Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets will square off in the first round of the 2019 postseason.
The Jazz will enter as the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference for the third consecutive season. The Rockets as the No. 4 seed will have home court advantage. Utah has won its last two first-round playoff series (the LA Clippers in seven games in 2017 and the Oklahoma City Thunder in six games in 2018) despite not having home court advantage.
The Jazz and Rockets faced each other four times during the regular season, splitting the series 2-2. Utah won the first two, while Houston took the second two.
Can anything be learned from those games to help preview the upcoming series?
Here’s a look back at each of the contests.
Jazz 100, Rockets 89
Thursday, Oct. 24, 2018, Toyota Center, Houston
What happened: In the Jazz’s fourth game of the regular season, Utah used an excellent second quarter to take an 8-point lead into halftime. The Jazz led by 7 with 5:19 to go, but the Rockets were trying to mount a comeback. Those hopes, ended, though, when James Harden exited the game because of injury, and Utah scored the game’s next eight points to seal the deal. Harden’s exit came as Houston was without starting point guard Chris Paul because of injury.
On a night he honored slain University of Utah runner Lauren McCluskey by wearing her name on his shoes, Donovan Mitchell led all scorers with 38 points, including 8 after Harden left.
The Rockets shot just 40 percent from the field and the Jazz outrebounded them by 16.
What can be learned?: The Rockets weren’t very good at the beginning of the year, partly because of Paul’s absence, but went 42-15 after falling to 11-14 in early December. That being said, if the Jazz can play good enough defense to where the high-powered Houston offense misses shots, they’ll have a more realistic chance of making the series interesting.
Jazz 118, Rockets 91
Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018, Vivint Arena, Salt Lake City
What happened: In one of the most memorable games of the season, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ejected less than three minutes into the game after he swiped the scorers’ table following his second foul. That galvanized Utah, which dominated the rest of the contest.
On the night, the Jazz shot 51 percent from the field compared to 39 percent for the Rockets and dominated every statistical category except for blocks. In Gobert’s absence, Derrick Favors led Utah with 24 points, 10 rebounds, a block and a steal. Harden led Houston in scoring, but he put up a season-low 15 points on 5-of-16 shooting.
What can be learned?: Gobert’s absence is interesting to think about in the context of the playoffs, as he struggles to make a big defensive impact against perimeter-oriented offenses like Houston’s (such was the case in last year’s series between the two teams). The Jazz are definitely better overall with him on the floor, however.
Additionally, this was Harden’s worst offensive game of the season, but can Utah manage to keep him somewhat in check?
Rockets 102, Jazz 97
Monday, Dec. 17, 2018, Toyota Center, Houston
What happened: Houston took control in the second quarter but Utah rallied to tie it at 94 with 1:59 to go. Harden scored the Rockets’ last eight points while Mitchell countered with just three as Houston got the win. Both teams struggled from the field, but the Jazz’s 24 turnovers hurt them greatly.
What can be learned?: Harden rebounded from the previous meeting to score 47 points, which wound up being just his 11th-most points in a game this season (Mitchell’s career-high, for comparison, is 46). Utah will desperately need to keep him in check. If any games are close, it’ll be his hands the basketball is in for Houston. Can the Jazz get stops down the stretch of close games?
Rockets 125, Jazz 98
Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019, Vivint Arena, Salt Lake City:
What happened: The Jazz were bad offensively for most of the night and the Rockets were in control virtually the whole way in the blowout. Harden scored 43 points while Mitchell led Utah with 26.
What can be learned?: For as much as the Jazz will need to be great defensively in this series because it’s their calling card and because Houston’s offense is so dangerous, they’ll need to play very well offensively, too. That hasn’t always happened this season, as Utah doesn’t have anyone beyond Mitchell who can create his own shot consistently.
NBA Western Conference Quarterfinals
No. 4 Houston Rockets vs. No. 5 Utah Jazz
- Game 1: Sunday, 7:30 p.m. at Houston, ATTSN/TNT
- Game 2: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. at Houston, ATTSN/TNT
- Game 3: Saturday, April 20, 8:30 p.m. at Salt Lake City, ATTSN/ESPN
- Game 4: Monday, April 22, 8:30 p.m. at Salt Lake City, ATTSN/TNT
- Game 5: Wednesday, April 24, TBD, at Houston, TBD, if necessary
- Game 6: Friday, April 26, TBD at Salt Lake City, TBD, if necessary
- Game 7: Sunday, April 28, TBD at Houston, TBD, if necessary