The Highlights

  • The Jazz were noncompetitive in Game 1 coming off a taxing seven-game series against the Thunder, trailing 64-39 at halftime and failing to cover the 11.5-point spread.
  • Rudy Gobert is a rightful Defensive Player of the Year candidate, but his value is diminished against the offensive spacing of the Rockets’ offense.
  • We’re already seeing reverse line movement on the total in Game 2.

The first game of the series was smooth sailing for the Rockets, as they got off to a big early lead and were essentially never tested. Get ready for a lot of these tweets for the next week or so:

What can Utah do to put up a fight? How can the Jazz cover a couple of spreads even if they are doomed to get swept? Here’s what you need to know for Game 2 in Houston. — Mark Gallant


8 p.m. ET | TNT


Gobert’s Value Is Diminished Against Houston

By Bryan Mears

Rudy Gobert is one of the three best defensive players in the world. Thus, he’s incredibly important in almost any setting: In the regular season this year, the Utah Jazz were 9.7 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor versus off, which is in the 92nd percentile of all players. The Jazz’s defense is 8.8 points/100 better with him out there. In the playoffs, when games turn into half-court battles, he’s a guy you want on your team, manning the middle of the lane and deterring dribble penetration and shots at the rim.

Unfortunately, and this is likely an instructive point for all one-way centers in the 2018 NBA, his value is just quite diminished against a team like Houston. It was only a single game, but in Game 1 on Sunday, Gobert posted a -15.3 net rating; the Jazz were outscored by 13 points with him on the floor. I get it: The Jazz were coming off a tough seven-game series, and Gobert looked gassed. But the marks were similar in the regular season. Mostly everyone for Utah was a net negative against Houston, and Gobert was no exception, posting a -10.6 net rating across three meetings against them.

Gobert will have moments to put his stamp on this series, but look to last game’s data as an example of how his effect is muted: The Rockets took just 30% of their shots from the rim. That’s good for the Jazz in theory, but it also means a lot more from behind the 3-point line. The Rockets largely avoided the midrange as usual, taking just 22.2% of their shots there, and instead they shot a 3 on 37% of their possessions. They hit a ridiculous 51.6% of them. James Harden was especially cooking, dropping 41 total points on 7-of-12 shooting behind the arc.

Houston is the most 3-point-happy team in the history of the NBA. Their 3,470 3-pointers in the regular season this year broke their own record from a season ago for most attempts ever. In a different era, Gobert’s defense would be series-changing; the Jazz would possibly even be Western Conference finals contenders. But in 2018, given the offensive advances thanks to Moreyball, centers just don’t make the impact they used to. The Rockets will have no problems avoiding the rim and Gobert in this series, and instead spacing out around the perimeter and playing the 3-point volume game.

Long-Term Trends Favor Jazz Covering in Game 2

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