Utah Versus Houston: The "Which Shoe Is Gonna Drop?" Series


Over the next few days, Basket Bawful and Free Darko will be previewing each NBA Playoff series. Basket Bawful looks at the Western Conference today, continuing with the series between the Houston Rockets and the Utah Jazz, which begins Saturday.

Can a playoff series be slow and low-scoring, yet still fun exciting to watch? Probably not. (For further information, please refer to the Knicks-Heat Rivalry.) But that doesn't mean you shouldn't watch it. After all, there's a very good chance you'll get to see Tracy McGrady cry. Again. And wouldn't that be worth sitting through dozens of hard fouls and several hundred pick-and-rolls? (Don't answer that. Just read on.)

The season series: The Jazz won it 2-1.

Bad news for the Jazz: They're nearly unstoppable at the Delta Center Energy Solutions Arena (an NBA-best 37-4), but they truly suck struggle away from home (17-24). And everybody knows it. The Jazz have dropped four of their last five on the road, including an end-of-season blowout at San Antonio that they needed to get homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Which, of course, means that they don't have homecourt advantage for this series ... and they're awful on the road ... do you see where I'm going with this?

Good news for the Jazz: They played the Rockets in Houston only once this season, and they won the game 97-89. (Random note that might or might not mean something: That was the loss that preceded the Rockets' historic winning streak.)

Reality check: You can go ahead and give Utah the three home wins. There's no way Houston is going to beat them at ESA. This means that the Jazz need to win only once in four tries at the Toyota Center. As bad as Utah has been on the road this season — and they've been pretty bad — I have a feeling they can win one out of four games in the Rockets' house.

Rockets player(s) to watch: This series could be the unofficial Tracy McGrady Suicide Watch. I know he's rich, famous, and probably sleeps on stacks of $100 bills and hookers, but you have to wonder how much more emotional trauma McGrady can take. Between the Orlando years, the chronic injury problems (to himself and Yao), and the fact that NBA historians seem ready to carve "The Greatest Player To Never Get Out Of The First Round" on his tombstone 30-40 years before his death...well, it ain't easy being T-Mac. It'll also be interesting to see how many meaningful minutes they can get out of Dikembe Mutumbo and whether Rafer Alston can handle Deron Williams. Also, I wouldn't be surprised to see Rick Adelman put the ball in Bobby Jackson's hands if there are any close games.

Jazz player(s) to keep an eye on: Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer. Those guys are the pillars. Utah's offense pretty much begins and ends with them. Also, can Jerry Sloan afford to use Andrei Kirilenko to guard McGrady? It'd be nice to see the Russian Rifle get his defensive mojo back. Mehmet Okur has been solid lately. Can he keep it up against the Rockets bump-and-grind defense? And the entire world will be watching for futher occurrences of Kyle Korver's gay elf defense.

Key(s) to the series: The Jazz have to win on the road, plain and simple. So how they perform away from home is going to decide the series.

Prediction: Jazz in six. And I say they win the sixth game going away. Expect the broadcasters to eulogize for the Rockets, saying something like, "They really couldn't win without Yao Ming, but they should be proud of themselves for what they've accomplished, especially that 22-game winning stre ... hey, is T-Mac crying again?!"