NBA Western Conference Predictions: Utah Jazz at Houston Rockets

Utah is situated 10th in the West, but that's better than preseason expectations rendered it.
Utah is situated 10th in the West, but that’s better than preseason expectations rendered it.

Utah Jazz at Houston Rockets
Time: 8:05 PM ET
Spread: HOU -11.5
Total: 194

Betting odds c/o Bovada

The Houston Rockets have won seven of its past 10 games and will enter tonight’s matchup at the Toyota Center as 11.5-point favorites over the visiting Utah Jazz. NBA live lines at Bovada also showed the total at 194, and for an explanation of how to bet both these figures, see our NBA odds explained.

Houston recently brought Dwight Howard back into the lineup, and its defense has looked markedly better, as noted by Houston beat writer Jonathan Feigan. The Rockets are 55-26 but sit situated fifth in the West. If the postseason began today, the Rockets would square off in a tough matchup against the No. 4 Portland Trail Blazers.

The standings are still subject to minor shakeups, however. Utah, meanwhile, will be returning to the lottery and is mathematically out of the postseason already at 38-43. The Jazz have won two straight and seven of its past 10, and though the team is passable at home (21-20), it was horrid on the road this season, 17-23. The Jazz are also just 23-28 against Western Conference opponents, while the Houston Rockets are 32-19 vs. the West

James Harden is in contention for the league MVP award. He’s seeing 36.9 minutes a game this season while boasting averages of 27.5 points, 6.9 assists and 5.6 rebounds per game. His PER of 26.8 attests to his great efficiency of both knocking down his field goals and getting to the free throw line, where he attempts over 10 per game at an 87 percent clip. Harden shoots 6.9 threes a game at a 37.8 percent mark.

The Rockets have eight players averaging double figures in scoring, and the bench has been very productive accordingly. In past seasons, it was depth that held the Rockets back, but the bench has thrived, and the frontcourt rotation is very strong since flushing it out with Josh Smith.

Smith has posted 11.9 points per game, but he is shooting just 32.8 percent from three point range and 43.9 percent form the floor. Never a high efficiency player, Smith finds other ways to make his impacts too, averaging 2.1 steals/blocks per game. Terrence Jones and Corey Brewer are equally adept at forcing turnovers and helping the Rockets get out in transition. Houston ranks 10th in defensive rating (103.8), while holding opponents to 100.7 per game. The Rockets rank 12th in offensive rating, and fifth in the NBA in scoring (103.8 per game).

While Utah is buried in the West and still missed the playoffs by about six games, the season has gone better than expected for the Jazz. The team has moved forward on the shoulders of Rudy Gobert, and its top scorers Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward (out) are both having big seasons.

Gobert is blocking 2.3 shots in just 26 minutes of play per night, while also averaging 8.4 points and 9.5 rebounds. His length has rendered the prospect every bit as good as anticipated, while Favors has grown a lot since Paul Millsap cleared the way for him to emerge fully. Favors is posting 16.2 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks/steals per game this season, while leading the team in PER, as well (22.0). Trey Burke has been reasonably good, which has allowed the Jazz to bring rookie Dante Exum along slowly. Exum is averaging 22 minutes per game this season and has appeared in every Jazz contest, starting 40 of them.

While Exum is posting a disgusting PER of just 5.8, it is important to remember he is just 19 years of age and still has a good learning curve. Over his past 10 games, he’s shot just 33.9 percent from the floor in averaging 5.6 points and 3.5 assists per game, but he’s had a number of flashes that have revealed the kind of playmaker he may be in time. Given that Burke is undersized, Exum could be the perfect counterbalance when the Jazz need more size in the backcourt. Burke is going to be limited by his size, but he’s looking as though he will at the minimum be a valued spark plug and scorer when the Jazz roster evolves back into a contending team.

The pieces are in place and the Jazz have held water in the difficult Western Conference. The typical “Playoff team in the East” solace doesn’t mean much, however, and many fans are still hoping NBA commissioner Adam Silver revamps the playoff format to feature the best 16 teams in the Association.

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