Two hot Western Conference teams meet in Utah to face off tonight. It’ll be a battle of contrasting styles as the 18-4 Houston Rockets visit the 13-12 Utah Jazz (10:30 p.m. ET Thursday on TNT).
Houston has played the best basketball of any team in the league this season. Behind MVP favorite James Harden, Chris Paul, Clint Capela, Eric Gordon and a host of role players, the Rockets have the best point differential in the NBA (plus-11.4 points per game).
Utah has been very inconsistent this year, but it is finding its stride. The Jazz have won six of their last seven contests behind an improved offense. In that stretch, the team is outscoring opponents by an average of 19.7 points per game.
Something has to give tonight, but what will it be? Let’s look into the factors will affect the outcome and then decide which side of the betting lines you should go with our Rockets vs Jazz predictions and betting picks.
Can Houston’s Improved Defense Stop the Donovan Mitchell Train?
It was reasonable to suggest that the Rockets would be an improved defensive team this season given their offseason acquisitions. However, this level of improvement is more extreme than anyone could have predicted.
Houston is now fifth in the league with just 100.9 points allowed per 100 possessions. Since Chris Paul returned from his knee injury seven games ago, the Rockets allow just 95.9 points per 100 possessions, first in the NBA during that span.
Utah’s offense is rolling right now, though, and the main source of that offense is rookie guard Donovan Mitchell. The budding 21-year-old star is averaging 28.8 points and four assists in 33.8 minutes per contest in his last four games, totaling an elite true shooting percentage of 65.9.
If Mitchell can’t get going, the Jazz will have trouble scoring. They don’t have a consistent offensive playmaker who can create looks for himself and others, outside of Mitchell.
Which Team Will Dictate Pace?
These two teams fall on different ends of the spectrum in terms of pace. Houston plays the eighth-fastest pace in the league, and Utah plays the fourth-slowest pace. Both of those numbers could be even more extreme, except Rockets opponents try so hard to use clock on offense, while Jazz opponents try very hard to push the pace in transition.
What’s clear is that these teams fare better when the pace of the game caters to them. Utah’s possessions per game in victories is just 93.3, and it jumps up to 96.5 in losses. Houston averages 99.5 possessions in wins, but the pace slows down to 96.7 possessions per contest in losses.
Both of these teams need to focus on what they do well in this game. For Houston, that’s quick outlet passes and hitting open threes in transition. For Utah, that’s patient, methodical ball movement on offense and good transition defense.
Will Alec Burks or Eric Gordon Play Better As Sixth Men?
In a vacuum, the sixth man matchup between the Jazz’ Burks and the Rockets’ Gordon favors Houston. However, Burks is playing lights-out right now, and he’s averaging 20.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists in just 26 minutes per game in his last five contests. His true shooting percentage is 68.3 in that span.
Houston is the obvious favorite in this game, and Gordon is the better player. But both Burks and Gordon are streaky players whose impact is dependent on how well their jump shots are falling.
For two teams that have somewhat shaky depth due to injuries, the performances of these top subs will be vital.
Our Preview’s Houston Rockets vs. Utah Jazz Betting Picks & Predictions
Houston is a better team than Utah by a significant margin, but the Rockets have been playing a weaker schedule as of late. I could see them coming out a bit flat as they adjust to better competition and play on the road. The Jazz are also much better when they play at home.
- As for our betting predictions, Houston is a 5.5-point favorite with nearly all the biggest offshore sportsbooks that accept Americans. That seems like a pretty accurate line, but I like the feisty Jazz to stick around in this one before eventually losing by a close margin. The best option here is with Bovada, who go a standout Utah +6pts @ odds of -105.
- The over/under for this contest is 208 or 208.5 total points, which is surprisingly low. Yes, Houston is a good defensive team and Utah does well on that end, but both teams have also been shooting really well as of late. The line has shifted up to 208.5pts with most sportsbooks, but you can go over 208pts @ -115 with Bovada and that is our pick.