Houston's depth and star power should send them through to Round 2

Previewing the Rockets and Jazz First Round Match up

James Harden averaged 37 points per game last week. Houston Rockets/Facebook

For the second year in a row, the Rockets and the Jazz will meet in the Western Conference playoffs. Although the year has changed and both rosters are a little bit different, I don't really see anything that leads me to believe that the results will be any different. The Rockets are not a good matchup for the Jazz because everything that they do offensively and defensively will be tested by James Harden and company. Utah exploits their opponent's tendencies and shortcomings, turning them into easy baskets, good scoring chances and lots and lots of transition opportunities. Quin Snyder's team is the epitome of the word "team;" they play together, share the ball and help the helper with timely rotations and switches. The problem with trying to do all those things and execute in this series is, the Rockets do most of those things better than the Jazz do. Here are the keys to the series as we prepare for Game 1.

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The Jazz is an above average defensive team that preys on turnovers and uses every live ball giveaway to get out in transition and create easy scoring opportunities. That works against the majority of the squads in the NBA but not so much against the Rockets. If Houston keeps their turnovers down, it becomes a double whammy for the Jazz. The Rockets end up with more shots while limiting Utah's fast break opportunities. The Jazz are young and athletic and they have the premiere defensive big man in the game patrolling the paint, Rudy Gobert. The "Stifle Tower" controls the lane and can block and alter most shots within 7 feet of the basket, while also being fully capable of filling the lane after live ball turnovers and missed shots.

Rockets Clint Capela Houston Rockets/Facebook

The reason he isn't quite as effective or successful against Houston is the duo of Clint Capella and James Harden who attack defending big men like Gobert by getting into the teeth of the defense and forcing them to react quickly and decide whether to collapse on Harden or show and then retreat to prevent a lob to Capella. The way the Beard and Chris Paul push the issue in the lane and their ability to make the proper decision keeps the defense on their heels. The chemistry between the dynamic duo and their big men, Capella, Kenneth Faried, and even Nene, has been perfected over the course of an 82 game regular season schedule and when they are in attack mode they are really hard to stop. Utah is a good defensive team but Houston is an even better team offensively.

Speaking of defense, look for the Jazz to attempt to do what no team has been able to accomplish this season and take the ball out of Harden's hands. Expect to see plenty of double-teams on the reigning MVP, hoping to get the ball out of his hands and forcing other players to beat them. They will also undoubtedly shade his left hand, hoping to make him uncomfortable and causing him to go right, which he does not prefer to do. They will undoubtedly throw different looks at Harden from picking him up in the backcourt to get the ball out of his hands, to allowing him to dribble the shot clock down in space at the top of the key only to rush extra help defenders at him late in the possession forcing a rushed shot or turnover.

Chris Paul Rockets.com

That's where Chris Paul comes in. He is like a coach on the floor and is extremely comfortable taking the ball from Harden to create offense for himself and for others. Paul will exploit the extra defenders helping on Harden by finding the open man for open shots as well as using the numbers in his favor to penetrate, opening up multiple scoring opportunities.

Eric Gordon Jonathan Daniel

Finally, look for the Rockets depth and overall talent to give them the upper hand in the series. Gobert has a slight advantage over Capella but Harden gets the nod over talented second-year guard Donovan Mitchell. Paul may have lost a step, but he is still more effective and talented than Ricky Rubio. The rest of Utah's rotation is filled with hit or miss game talent that could just as easily give them a goose egg as they could double figures. Jo Ingles and Kyle Korver are exceptional shooters but are not fleet of foot and have trouble with athletic wing defenders like the Rockets possess. Dereck Favors, Jay Crowder, and Ekpe Udoh are reserve post players that have experience but have consistently underachieved over their veteran careers. Look for Austin Rivers and Danuel House jr. to give Korver and Ingles fits on the perimeter, while Faried and PJ Tucker will run Favors, Crowder and Udoh into the ground with their activity on both ends and ability to run the floor relentlessly. The real "X" factor in my mind is Eric Gordon. If he is making shots, specifically 3's, as well as penetrating and getting to the rim, then the Rockets are going to be tough to beat. When Gordon is scoring in bunches and making his shots Houston can play with anybody, that includes the Jazz as well as the Warriors and whoever comes out of the East.

James Harden and Chris Paul Houston Rockets/Facebook

With all that said, I actually believe the end result will mirror the semi-final matchup of last year and the Rockets will win in five games. It's a different year but the main characters remain the same and that suits Houston perfectly fine. They are deeper, have more star power and can defend the pick and roll that is a staple of the Utah offense. Mitchell will be a handful but so will Harden, and CP3 has a big advantage over whoever the Jazz chose to put on him. As long as the Rockets don't have a drought from distance similar to the catastrophic collapse in game 7 against the Warriors, look for the Rockets to roll and advance to the semi-finals and a re-match with Golden State.

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Image

All dynasties end. If the Golden State Warriors' dynasty is done, what a brutal ending. Kevin Durant's ruptured Achilles followed in the next game by a torn ACL for Klay Thompson? Stunning and sad. Even those bitterly envious of the Warriors' success the last five seasons should feel so. The Western Conference is now clearly ripe for the picking by the Rockets or someone other than Golden State next season.

Will Kawhi stay?

Full credit to the Toronto Raptors. A deep and versatile team (with exactly zero lottery picks on the roster) led by Kawhi Leonard earned the NBA title. Now, does Kahwi re-up in Canada or head home to California and sign with the Clippers?

Alvarez looks the part

If you're an Astros fan Yordan Alvarez's big league debut this week was exciting stuff. In his first game a missile launch of an opposite field homer then in his second a flick of the wrist homer to right on a pitch below the strike zone. Alvarez will have his struggles, but his raw power is awesome, his left-handed swing is easy looking, and he is not a swing at anything guy.

The Astros don't think Alvarez can play a competent first base, yet at least. It would be nice if he could because when the Astros are healthy, among the everyday players Yuli Gurriel has been the weakest lineup link this season. With first base not in the cards for him in 2019, Alvarez primarily slots at designated hitter with an occasional start in left.

One dreamy comparison for Alvarez is late Hall of Famer Willie McCovey. A six foot six inch left-handed monster who played left field early in his career before settling in as a first baseman. McCovey finished with 521 home runs en route to Cooperstown. McCovey wore number 44 his whole big league career. Interesting that the Astros gave Alvarez the number 44 jersey. As of now anyway that means no retirement of 44 for Roy Oswalt, who merely had the greatest Astro pitching career in franchise history.

Of the players prior to Alvarez who homered in their Astro debut game, only Ken Caminiti had what could be called a good career. In 2003 Dave Matranga homered in his first big league plate appearance. It was his only big league hit.

Hall of Fame DNA

Teoscar Hernandez was an Astro when he homered in his first MLB game in 2016. He's having a horrible season with the horrible Toronto Blue Jays who are in town for a three game series. Hernandez is not the player with a Houston connection of interest to many this weekend. That guy is Cavan Biggio, son of Craig. He's scuffled since getting the call up last month, batting only .185, but he hit two homers Thursday and has shown excellent plate discipline drawing 12 walks in just 57 plate appearances. Unlike his Hall of Fame father, Cavan bats left-handed.

The Jays' phenom prospect to watch is Vladimir Guerrero Junior. son of another Hall of Famer. Pretty much universally regarded as the best hitting prospect in the game coming into the season, the 20 year old Vlad Jr. has picked it up after his own slow start. Vlad Sr. looked chiseled out of granite. Vlad Jr...let's say he evidently likes to eat. A lot. He and the Jays should be worried about getting and keeping his body right.

Allegations against Texans

One of the worst allegations that can be made against an individual is being called racist. That is what fired Texans' security coordinator Jeff Pope has done in filing an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint against the Texans claiming that fired Texans' General Manager Brian Gaine systemically targeted African-American employees for termination.

This gets out just days after the Texans' fired Gaine. The Texans say they knew nothing about the allegation ahead of dumping Gaine less than a year and a half into his five year contract. Coincidences certainly happen.

At least one person is despicable here. It could be an embittered former employee with a fallacious claim. It could be Gaine. If it turns out there is fire behind the smoke and the Texans knew anything about this, and then Cal McNair in his statement announcing Gaine's dismissal called him "a man of high character," oh boy.

Meanwhile the Texans face tampering charges from the New England Patriots over the Texans' interest in hiring Nick Caserio away for the Pats to succeed Gaine.

All this stuff may just run its course and that's that. At the moment however the Texans have multiple looks of a sorry soap opera.

Buzzer Beaters: 

1. By 2021 the Astros could have three young left-handed hitting studs in their lineup: Alvarez, Kyle Tucker, and Seth Beer. Without any contract extensions Josh Reddick, Michael Brantley, and George Springer, all become free agents after next season. 2. I laugh when the world's best golfers whine about how tough the course layout is at the U.S. Open. 3. Best sports trophies: Bronze-Borg-Warner (Indy 500 winner) Silver-Heisman Gold-Stanley Cup

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