by Russ Bengtson
I’ll be honest, and I’ll be short. There are things I didn’t talk about in the Jazz/Rockets preview that can’t be defined by numbers or records. The Houston Rockets are scrappy. The Houston Rockets are tough.
The Houston Rockets are toast.
The last time the Utah Jazz lost at Energy Solutions arena was on March 20th, 106-95 to the Los Angeles Lakers (this might be important in a week or two). Other than that, the Jazz haven’t lost a home game in 2008. Think home court advantage was important to the Rockets?
Yes, the Rockets handed the Jazz one of their four home losses this season. But that was way back on November 1st, when Yao Ming was wearing Reeboks, not a walking boot. He only had 11 points (and five blocks), while Tracy McGrady bore the offensive load, scoring 47 points. So basically, if the Rockets hope to have a chance in this series, they need T-Mac to go completely nuts.
Did I mention he went scoreless in the fourth quarter of Game One? And that he wasn’t even the Rockets scoring leader? That was Shane Battier, who scored 22 points on 7-7 from the floor (4-4 from three). They probably shouldn’t get used to that.
There’s also the fact that Andrei Kirilenko had what amounted to a complete emotional breakdown during the Rockets series last year and the Jazz STILL won. In Game One this year, Kirilenko was Utah’s leading scorer. (Drei, Booz and Deron all scored 20-plus.)
Of course the Jazz know this. They also know that Yao won’t be joining us for the rest of the series, and they ALSO know that they beat the Rockets in Game Seven in Houston just last year. And of course they knew they’d have to win a game in Houston in order to take the series, and were able to take care of it right away (as opposed to last year when they lost Games One and Two and still went on to win the series). They have the Rockets number, and the way it looks now that number just might be 4.
ESPN.com’s John Hollinger picked the Jazz to go to the Finals, based primarily on point differential (which made their corrected record something like 87 and –5, I think). I’m not going to go that far. But if they can win Game Two—which they’ll want to, with Rafer Alston still out—this series will be over before it even gets started.