HOUSTON — Three thoughts on the Jazz's 103-94 loss to the Houston Rockets from KSL.com's Jazz beat writer Andy Larsen.
1. Rudy Gobert in
The news about Rudy Gobert was something of a surprise throughout Thursday: first, the news that he would be listed as questionable in the morning brought some smiles to the team. Then, the news that he would actually play in tonight's game was even better news, even though he was on a minute restriction.
It's good for the Jazz to have Rudy Gobert back: in the end, Gobert is absolutely the most important piece to the Jazz's developing identity as a defense-first team that opponents would prefer not to face. While Gobert was on a minutes restriction tonight, his minutes were the most effective ones the Jazz played: the Jazz outscored the Rockets by 9 in those 15 minutes, and led the team in on-court NetRtg as well.
And it was an especially nice sign to see Gobert's athleticism in full effect. Coming off of the knee injury, that's the big question: could Gobert explode up for dunks and blocks? Well, he showed that he was at 100 percent on this dunk in the fourth quarter.
In the end, it was 18 games that Rudy Gobert missed, right in the middle of the 15-25 game estimate given by the comparable injuries other NBA players have had. I've been told that the return from a MCL sprain is pretty mathematical, and indeed, Gobert's turned out to be here.
Gobert's minute limitation did cause some minor drama though at the end of the game: with 2:12 left in the fourth quarter, Quin Snyder had to remove Gobert from the game to abide by the restriction, despite the fact that it was a close game late. That clearly frustrated Gobert, who would have preferred to keep playing, but keeping Gobert healthy long-term is obviously the most important thing for the franchise.
2. Rodney Hood out
And just as one critical Jazzman returns, an other seemingly bad looking injury for another hits. Here's the play that left Rodney Hood out for the rest of the game.
Video of Rodney Hood's injury: pic.twitter.com/hqQmH3HBgr — Andy Larsen (@andyblarsen) January 8, 2016
After the game, the injury was described as a sore right ankle, but once again, Jazz players seemed down that yet another injury had befallen their team.
"It's unfortunate and I hope he has a speedy recovery,'' Gordon Hayward told the Deseret News. "It's going to be tough on us mentally, besides the obvious physical part. You feel for these guys. It's going to be a mental challenge for everybody to fight through it."
Rodney Hood being injured, on top of Alec Burks' broken ankle, leaves the Jazz really, really thin at the wing. Actually, it's nearly a carbon copy of the situation the Jazz faced last year, when the Jazz had those same players out at this same point in the season.
So what happened then? Joe Ingles started 32 games alongside Gordon Hayward when both of those players were injured. The Jazz finished 15-17 during those games, so it wasn't a complete train-wreck. Ingles did struggle a little bit more as a starter, though, shooting less than 40 percent from the field, and picking up more fouls and turnovers against better opposition than he did coming off the bench.
The book has kind of come out a little bit on Ingles since then as well: he's been exposed somewhat as a bad defender in one-on-one situations, a weakness that will be even further exposed against starting pieces. It's something to watch.
Of course, the Jazz did have a healthy Derrick Favors for most of that stretch, which really gave the Jazz two legitimate offensive options in the starting lineup. Right now, with Favors' back spasms proving to be a more serious issue than first expected, the Jazz only have one real offensive threat in the starting lineup, and that's going to make it very difficult to score.
None of this hypothetical is a sure thing: ankle injuries are can vary between small-deal sprains and large-deal breaks, and we won't know of what type Hood's is until Friday or Saturday. But if it is a longer-term injury, the Jazz will be again forced to adapt in a way they never imagined this season.
3. Jazz's defense disappoints in the second half
After a good first half performance, the Jazz got outscored by the Rockets in the second half by 14 points. The offense was mostly fine, scoring 104 points per 100 possessions, but the defense really struggled, giving the Rockets 133 points per 100 possessions. The Rockets are a good offensive team, but without Dwight Howard and Ty Lawson, the Jazz should have done better.
Part of the problem was personnel: with Rudy Gobert on a minutes restriction, the Jazz had to rely on the rotation of Trey Lyles, Trevor Booker, and Jeff Withey to provide defensive cover. But Withey didn't play after the six-minute mark in the third quarter, leaving probably too many minutes of Trey Lyles and Trevor Booker together.
That's been a bad combination for the Jazz this season. In 110 minutes, the Jazz have been outscored by 25 points per 100 possessions. They have too many similar strengths and weaknesses offensively and defensively to work well together, quite frankly. It was a little bit of a mystery that Withey wasn't out there for the game's final 18 minutes instead of that particular combination.
That didn't cost the Jazz the game: Withey was still a -6 when he played, and Lyles/Booker lineups were a -7. A lot of this will be solved as Gobert is able to play more minutes. But if the Jazz are going to rebuild their defensive identity, playing one of Gobert and Withey at all times is going to be the easiest way to do it.