The Houston Rockets can outshoot, outscore and outrun nearly any team in the NBA. They’re at their best, however, when they produce on the defensive end.
They’ll look for their third consecutive dominant defensive performance Saturday night when they host the Utah Jazz.
The Rockets (25-11) stifled Cleveland in a 105-93 victory Wednesday before heading to New York on Thursday to throttle the lifeless Knicks 120-96. The two contests marked the first time since late November that Houston held opponents under 100 points in back-to-back contests, which, considering the results, is a trend it would like to continue. The Rockets, who rank as a top five defense with 97.3 points allowed per game, are 19-0 when holding the opposition to fewer than 97 points.
James Harden continues to pace Houston as the top scorer in the NBA with 26.8 points per game. He scored a game-high 25 on Thursday in just three quarters and the Rockets tallied their highest point total this season.
”We’re kind of looking at the bigger picture," Harden said. "Bigger picture is us playing at a high level, all on the same page. No matter what team we’re playing against, we’ve got to play great."
Utah (13-24) has elevated its status from league bottom feeder to respectable opponent with its recent play. The Jazz have won seven of their last 12 games, including road wins over upper-echelon teams Memphis and Chicago. They nearly pulled off another upset Friday at Oklahoma City, but fell late 99-94.
"I think we performed well," coach Quin Snyder said. "It just was, we missed some shots at the end. There was nothing about what we did that we fell apart. We didn’t turn the ball over late. I think it was more them raising their level."
Like Houston, the Jazz have found a great deal of success through their defensive play, allowing a league-best 92.5 points per game since Dec. 17.
Utah has proven susceptible to giveaways lately, most notably in its 20-turnover effort Friday. That downfall could be exploited by the Rockets’ defensive pressure Saturday, as Houston ranks second in the NBA with 9.5 steals per game and has forced 16 or more turnovers in each of the past five games.
The Rockets beat the Jazz for the sixth time in seven meetings, 104-93 on Oct. 29. Houston forced only 13 turnovers in that contest, but held Gordon Hayward to eight points on 3 for 11 shooting.
Hayward figures to be more of a factor this time around as the fifth-year forward has averaged 23.0 points in his last three games, including a 27-point performance Friday.
Rudy Gobert has also been a solid contributor for Utah lately as he continues to fill in for the injured Enes Kanter, who remains questionable with an ankle injury. Gobert has averaged 9.8 points on 15-for-22 shooting and 9.0 rebounds in his last four games.
The Rockets have scored 116.0 points per game while shooting 52.9 percent during three straight home wins against the Jazz.