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Rockets-Jazz Series Betting Preview: Can Utah Keep Rudy Gobert On-Court vs. Harden Onslaught?

Credit:

Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Rudy Gobert and James Harden

  • The Rockets and Jazz will face one another in the No. 4 vs. 5 matchup in the West.
  • Matt Moore breaks down the series, and provides his betting pick to win.

No. 4 Houston Rockets vs. No. 5 Utah Jazz

Series Price: Rockets -400 | Jazz +300
Key matchup: Rudy Gobert vs. Just the whole thing

Rudy Gobert was exposed pretty badly last year in this matchup. He had a net rating of -19, with a 93 offensive rating — which is atrocious — and a 112 defensive rating which, for Gobert, is an apocalypse. The Jazz elected to just embrace the switch and try and contain Chris Paul and Harden with Gobert and he was torn to pieces.

In the matchup this year in the regular season, it’s been closer. Gobert still has a sub-100 offensive rating, but also a sub-100 defensive rating, so that’s promising. However, three of those matchups came in the dregs of Houston’s season, before they both reformatted their roster with Danuel House and Austin Rivers, and got Clint Capela and Chris Paul back healthy. The Jazz also weren’t great until late, however, so that’s also something to consider.

But in the last matchup between the two back on February 2nd? Rudy Gobert’s on-court metrics:

  • Offensive rating: 93.1
  • Defensive rating: 109.9
  • Net rating: -16.8

The Rockets won by 27. Concerning.

The specific issues are about Gobert’s ability to contain in space. The Rockets put opponents in constant positions in which they’re forced to do a lot of things simultaneously. Gobert is long enough and smart enough to usually manage that, but with the Rockets, Harden just exhausts him. Here he has to show vs. the step-back three and then back up immediately to contain on the drive, and then recover on the roll man:

 

Two possessions later, Gobert missed a point-blank transition layup. It’s exhausting guarding Houston.

And conversely, Gobert can’t punish the Rockets for their own switches. Gobert is one of the best pick and roll finishers, but if you have long, athletic players to contest the lob as the Rockets do, the only real counter is to attack the guard on the switch vs. Gobert in the post. Gobert’s not an elite — or even necessarily good — post player, though. The Jazz just look him off here, on back-to-back possessions:

 

For every playoff team, there’s at least one weak point that the opponent will attack consistently. In addition to Gobert, the other one for Utah is Kyle Korver, in his late 30s. For the Rockets, though, it’s their off-ball attention with Gerald Green and Harden. However, it’s different when it’s a player who is so central to a team’s success, like Gobert is. The Rockets turn Gobert into a liability and that just messes with Utah’s entire approach.

If Gobert figures out a way to pressure Harden (and Chris Paul, who was great last year in the same spot) without giving up Harden going left, there’s a chance he can flip this. But it’s worrisome.

Derrick Favors honestly seems like a much better matchup with his mobility and physicality at the rim.

Value Play: Rockets (-400)

I think this series is probably closer than last year’s. Houston’s not as reliably great possession-to-possession, and Utah’s a little more versatile offensively with who it’s brought in, and with a better Donovan Mitchell. The Jazz will also have Ricky Rubio who was hurt last year in the playoffs, and he can have one game where his jumper magically falls.

But Houston’s ability to flip matchup advantages into disadvantages, combined with Capela’s dominance on the lob, Chris Paul’s midrange game, and what Danuel House provides makes me lean towards Houston firmly. It’s going to be a challenge unlike last year, but not enough to really threaten the Rockets. The Jazz are the “good showing” team of the West.

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