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SALT LAKE CITY — Three thoughts on the Utah Jazz's 112-101 loss to the Houston Rockets from KSL.com's Utah Jazz beat writer, Andy Larsen.
1. Rockets come in hot, stay hot, leave hot
The Rockets had come into tonight's game as perhaps the league's best team. The statistics are simply staggering. Coming into the game ...
- The Rockets had won 13 of their last 14 games.
- In 12 of those games, they won by 10 or more points.
- In 11 of those games, they won by 15 or more points.
- In 8 of those games, they won by 20 or more points.
In other words, the Rockets were on a historic run. And the Jazz got steamrolled, just as nearly every other team did, though the scoreline ended up flattering the Jazz somewhat with a late comeback.
This is because the Rockets are really talented and well coached to boot. One of the Rockets' weaknesses last year was how they fared when James Harden was on the bench. So they went out and acquired Chris Paul (nickname: "Point God") to run their second unit. That is insane.
Clint Capela's gotten so much better. Rudy Gobert called him one of the league's best centers after the game, and that was after Capela even missed most of the contest due to foul trouble. So without Capela, the Rockets mostly went all small, keeping five 3-point shooters on the floor, and playing Ryan Anderson, P.J. Tucker, or Tarik Black at center. That allowed the Rockets to run very simple plays, and the Jazz to have no recourse other than leaving 3-point shooters wide open. That's not a compelling option against the Rockets.
"There really is no way you can get over to help in that situation without just completely leaving a shooter to begin with," Quin Snyder explained after the game.
And defensively, Trevor Ariza had the matchup against Donovan Mitchell and largely kept him in check through three quarters. That meant Joe Ingles, Ricky Rubio or Alec Burks had to create, and none of them were consistently able to find success. Burks probably had the best shot, and ended up with a decent stat line, but in truth, made the wrong read more than he made the right one.
Ideally, the Jazz would be able to punish a team like the Rockets with their size, but in practicality, Houston could just selectively collapse on Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors and cause turnovers often enough to make it worth it. In the first half especially, the Jazz got good looks from outside but didn't make enough of them.
But really, it comes back to this: the Rockets are a great team. It was almost insulting, actually, the degree of credit the Rockets gave the Jazz in a game where the Jazz didn't really have a chance to win in the final 18 minutes or so. Tweets like these from Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, for example:
And Chris Paul said this about Donovan Mitchell after the game:
“Utah got a gem in him” - @CP3 talking about @spidadmitchell 👍 🕷#HOUatUTA#JazzNation#TakeNote#NBARooks#UtahJazz#NBApic.twitter.com/vSJi4kPmxp — JazzNation (@JazzNationNews) December 8, 2017
So while it's tempting to overreact after a two-game losing streak, remember that the Jazz have lost to great talent, five All-Stars, in those two games. It was probably never meant to be.
2. Let's talk about the starting lineup, though
That being said: We might have enough evidence to suggest that the Ricky Rubio/Favors/Gobert lineup combination isn't an especially promising one. Regardless of whether or not it has Mitchell or Rodney Hood in the unit, that look has been a -63 in the 219 minutes it's been on the court.
The biggest problem with those lineups, unsurprisingly, is that they can't shoot. Those lineups shoot just 32 percent from beyond the 3-point line when they're out there, 28 percent when it's Mitchell in the starting lineup, not Hood.
And that lack of spacing also leads to more turnovers than any other 3-man unit that shares the floor, 19.7 per 48 minutes. Obviously, that's not a good total either.
The defensive promise of those units also hasn't ended up shining through: they're allowing 106.7 points per 100 possessions, while the Jazz's average is 101.4.
Here's the problem for Jazz head coach Quin Snyder, though: What can they realistically do about it? Right now, he's already only playing those units for three minutes at the beginning of each half, until Jonas Jerebko comes in for Favors.
He can't bench Gobert; he's the franchise player with a $100 million contract. He can't bench Favors without losing the free-agent-to-be in the locker room and on the court; we've seen YOLO Favors shots and up-and-down defensive effort as it is this season, now multiply that three-fold if he's coming off the bench. Benching Favors would also hurt his trade value.
Benching Rubio would make the most sense, except that the Jazz believe in his potential to become the player he was for his first six seasons: a good on-ball defender with a sense of magic with the ball in his hands. With Hood and Dante Exum out, too, their replacement options are Alec Burks and Raul Neto, both of whom have a much shorter track record of success than Rubio.
In the end, I think it's most likely that the problem is fixed by Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey, not Quin Snyder.
In other words, a trade might have to be made. One date to watch here, beyond the trade deadline: Dec. 15 is the date on which newly signed players are eligible to be traded.
3. If you make a lot of threes, how likely are you to win the game?
Religious fans of KSL.com's basketball coverage might remember this article I wrote about a month ago, detailing how each of the NBA's "Four Factors" (FG percentage, offensive rebound percentage, turnover percentage, and free throw ratio) correlates with winning games.
Well, coming into tonight's game against the Houston Rockets, I was asked to look at the same numbers, but with 3-point makes. If a team makes a certain number of threes, how likely are they to win the game?
So I fired up the dataset, which includes all of the games from the 2010-11 season through the 2016-17 season. What are the records for teams that hit various 3-point makes benchmarks?
|If your team's 3PM is higher than this 3PM||If your team's 3PM is lower than this 3PM|
|3PM||Greater than Wins||Greater than Losses||Win %||% of games||3PM||Less than Wins||Less than Losses||Win%||% of games|
So just by hitting at least 18 threes tonight, the Rockets gave themselves a really good chance of winning. And the Jazz's 11 threes, well, that's not great.
This isn't a surprising result. Of course, 3-point shots are important, the whole point is scoring baskets. But once the Rockets made that 18 threes, it was always going to be a tough road for the Jazz.