Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin hopes to end Houston's two-game losing streak tonight when they play the Utah Jazz at 9 p.m. Monday in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo : Reuters)
It doesn't look like anything is going right for the Houston Rockets. While the team started off great behind the red-hot start of James Harden and solid play from Jeremy Lin, the team has fallen to a losing 4-6 record after losing two straight games to western rivals, the Portland Trail Blazers and the Los Angeles Lakers.
And to get back in the swing of things tonight, they will have to win against a hosting Utah Jazz team (5-6) that has won nine consecutive games at home in the EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The Rockets have been left reeling in the last two games, losing another overtime game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday-the team that handed them their first loss of the season-and again on Sunday in a high-profile 119-108 loss to Kobe Bryant and the LA Lakers.
For the Rockets to get back into winning form and take one from the home-dominant Jazz-who beat them handily last season at the EnergySolutions Arena 104-83 in their last trip to Salt Lake City on Feb. 29-Houston is going to need to accomplish several of five top keys to victory:
1. Lin must bring A game
The good news for Rockets fans is this: the last time Lin faced the Jazz, he put on a clinic, putting up 28 points and handed out eight assists the last time he faced Utah, a 99-88 New York victory on Feb. 6, in his first career start.
The bad news? Lin's play this season has been a far cry from the player he was back in New York. In particular, his shooting has been atrocious, especially in his last three games, where he is shooting 7-for-27 with only 21 combined points since Nov. 14. His assists have been steady, and he ranks fifth in the league in steals at 2.2 per game, but without his offensive punch, the Rockets are down one major scoring option, forcing Chandler Parsons, Patrick Patterson and Omer Asik to pick up the slack to back up James Harden. Lin appears to be shooting less and passing more, but if the Rockets want to have a shot at snapping Utah's winning streak at home, Lin must step up big time on offense tonight.
2. Harden's shooting must improve
At 26.0 points per game, James Harden is currently the second highest scorer in the league, second only to Los Angeles' Bryant. And he is arguably the league's most feared scorer at the moment, with teams becoming well aware that Harden is capable of beating a team with his offensive outbursts. But his shooting has not been all that great this season. In his last three games, he is shooting 25-for-56 for a rather low.446 percent field goal average from the field. Whether it's a question of shot selection or added pressure from opposing defenses is up for debate, but Harden has to start making a few more shots, or getting to the line more, if Houston wants any chance of snapping their two-game losing streak.
3. Defense must become a priority
At 97.7 points per game to rank 15th league wide in points scored, the Jazz are averaging a respectable, but not overpowering offensive push.
But against a porous Houston defense that is allowing opponents to score 100.8 points on them every night-tying Houston with Denver near the bottom of team defenses at No. 26 of the 30 NBA teams-that number could easily balloon, as it did for Los Angeles Sunday when they dropped 119 points on the Rockets to get the win.
And while Houston's offense ranks in the Top 10 among NBA teams, they can't rely on overpowering their opponents every night, which means they have to make serious adjustments to stopping opponents from driving into the lane and putting added pressure on shooters.
4. Contain Paul Millsap
There isn't one particular scorer on a balanced Jazz team that stands out when three players-Millsap, Mo Williams and Al Jefferson-are only separated by one-tenth of a point as far as being the team leader in offense, but Millsap has the talent to make a difference for the Jazz.
Leading the Jazz in scoring with 15.7 ppg, Millsap has been on fire in two of his last three games, scoring 20 points or more in back-to-back losses for Utah. He's not a great shooter thus far-only 20-of-49 from the field in the last three games-but he can still hurt Houston if left unchecked.
5. Become Road Warriors
Currently, the Rockets are 2-3 at home and on the road. While neither one is particularly impressive, Houston is going to have to adopt a "road warriors" mantra if they are going to be able to beat a team that hasn't lost at home since Phoenix defeated them 107-105 on April 4.
The Jazz, whose last 10-game home winning streak spanned Feb. 24-April 6, 2010, have lost only five times in Houston's last 28 regular-season visits. Meaning the Rockets have lost at least 23 of those match-ups.