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Rockets vs Jazz playoff breakdown

Discussion in 'Houston Rockets: Game Action & Roster Moves' started by Tfor3, Apr 21, 2007.

  1. Tfor3

    Tfor3 Member

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    http://www.emptythebench.com/2007/04/19/nba-playoffs-dance-jazz-vs-rockets/#more-664


    This should be the most competitive first-round series of this year’s playoffs. Both of these teams have rosters and playing styles geared toward playoff success, both have coaches who have extensive playoff experience and both have a number of players lacking in such experience. These are balanced teams who play a brand of tough, gritty basketball that thrives this time of year. Although the Jazz finished with a slightly better record and took the season series 3-1 (with Yao and McGrady benched during the final matchup), they were virtually equivalent in the regular season. While there are several compelling matchups on the floor we’ll discuss below, the chess match between the Jazz’s Jerry Sloan and the Rocket’s Jeff Van Gundy will be extremely entertaining.

    Sloan and Van Gundy will emphasize defense, but the Rockets are certainly more capable on that end of the floor (Houston opponents score just 92.13 points a game, third fewest in the NBA, and Jazz opponents put up 98.62, 17th fewest). Because of that, the Jazz are simply going to have to play more aggressively than perhaps they would like to. The responsibility to make that happen will fall squarely on the shoulders of Deron Williams, one of the brighter young stars in the Association. There are a number of storylines here, with Tracy McGrady trying to win his first career playoff series, Deron Williams versus Rafer ‘Skip’ Alston, two former Western Conference powerhouses returning to the playoffs and facing off again, defensive specialists Andrei Kirilenko and Shane Battier versus one another and Yao Ming attempting to assert himself as the league’s premier big man against fellow All-Star Mehmet Okur and wide-body Carlos Boozer. Here’s how we see it all shaking down:


    Backcourt:

    Deron Williams came out of nowhere (well, the lottery last year, but still) and finished second in the NBA in assists this season (9.3 per game, behind only Steve Nash), but he lacks any playoff seasoning. When it comes to your team’s primary ballhandler and playmaker, that is certainly less than ideal. On the other side, Tracy McGrady has been in his fair share of playoff contests, but he’s yet to make his way out of the first round.

    It should be interesting to see how Jerry Sloan approaches McGrady, but I suspect the hard-nosed Matt Harpring may be asked to play some of Sloan’s trademark ‘physical’ defense on T-Mac. I also wouldn’t be shocked to see the long, athletic Andrei Kirilenko thrown at him in certain situations. Other than that though, the Jazz should have no answer for a focused and healthy Tracy and that’s going to hurt all series, particularly down the stretch of close games when they will need to focus on Yao and leave a defender on an island with McGrady.

    Playing point for the Rockets will be the former And1 Tour star Rafer Alston, a decent point in his own right (5.4 assists, 1.6 steals, 2.3 threes a game). Alston is a good ballhandler and medicore passer, but he is an extremely poor shooter from the field and the stripe. That usually hurts in the playoffs, but the Rockets can work around his FT woes in crunch time with McGrady and Yao handing the ball every possession. The other problem with Rafer is that he isn’t mentally tough and is very prone to long slumps and periods of poor decision making. Look for Sloan to pressure him and exploit that.

    Luthor Head will come off the bench to spell Alston and McGrady, and should give the Utah defenders fits with his perimeter shooting (2.2 threes per). The kid can go off if he’s left alone. Right now, the Houston backcourt is just too much for Utah to handle in a seven-game series. In a year or two, it may be the other way around. There is an x-factor though, a guy who could emerge late in games: fans and Houston Rockets alike must be careful not to forget about Derek Fisher. This is a savvy, veteran player who has epitomized the concept of clutch playoff shooting over the years.

    Frontcourt:

    If the Utah Jazz are to win this series they will have to best Houston up front, no easy task with the Rockets starting the NBA’s best center. For that to happen, Kirilenko will have to play better than he did in the regular season. He’s an All-Star caliber talent and the Jazz’s highest-paid player. He will need to play like it. If Andrei can harass Yao with doubles in the post and help defense, fly out and get in the Rocket’s shooter’s faces, and be an all around menace, they’ll have a chance.

    The major difference between this season’s version of the Rockets and years past is the terrific defense, hustle and charge-taking abilities of Shane Battier. He can be a tremendous difference maker, like Kirilenko, without the ball and is one of the NBA’s best man defenders. However, with no wing threats to speak of, Battier may have nobody to guard. Instead, he may be asked to chase Mehmet Okur around on the outside. He is capable of guarding taller players, especially ones as soft as Memo.

    Down low it will be fascinating to see Yao versus Carlos Boozer and Okur. On offense Okur can pull Yao out from time to time, but he can’t keep up with him in the post. Boozer can keep Yao out of position on the other end, but defensively he can’t match Yao’s range. Because of that, expect to see a few 30+ point games out of the Chinese big man.

    Aside from the big names, don’t forget Chuck Hayes and ‘Juwanna Man’ Howard . . . and don’t forget Paul Millsap, either. These are the role players who could help decide the series. They’re glue players who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. They rebound, take charges, play tough defense and chase every loose ball. For utah, Kirilenko and Millsap’s energy will be responsible for matching the hustle of Hayes and knocking down shots when they get them. For Houston, Howard will also be counted on to hit his shots when Yao is doubled. If Houston can get Utah into foul trouble, Millsap and Jarron Collins will be a free lunch for Ming.

    The Prediction:

    The homecourt advantage for Houston should make this interesting, especially because I think Houston is a better playoff team. The Rockets have been built to win a seven-game series. They have a perimeter threat in McGrady who can shoulder the load on any given night, and T-Mac should be extremely motivated. They have a reliable low post scorer who they can go to down the stretch or whenever the offense isn’t clicking (e.g. April 1st versus Utah when Yao put up 24 of the Rocket’s first 32 with McGrady struggling). They have a legitimate defensive ’stopper’ in Shane Battier who matches up well with all of the West’s elite perimeter players. They have three-pointer specialists in Luthor Head and Rafer Alston who will keep teams honest, and the have several key role players in Chuck Hayes and Juwon Howard up front.

    All of that said, Utah has a very talented roster and a great playoff coach themselves. Sloan is an expert at breaking down defenses with carefully orchestrated cuts, great pacing and a disciplined attack. He’s also a fantastic motivator. The front line of Boozer, Okur and Kirilenko is as talented as any in the league, Williams is a fantastic distributor, Fisher is as clutch as they come and the Millsap/Harpring tandem provides excellent toughness. Despite the Utah strengths, Houston has the better defense, the better role players, the more reliable stars, a superior defense and a half-court game on offense that works well in the postseason so . . .

    Houston takes the series in Seven Games

    Check back at Empty the Bench tonight and throughout the day tomorrow for breakdowns of all the other first-round matchups.
     
  2. Tfor3

    Tfor3 Member

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    Thanks Clutch for the upgrade. I will definitely conduct myself with respect. I love this site and this team and you(us) fans are great, even the gloom and doom ones. :cool:

    Let's go Roxs.
     

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