Road-tested Rockets head to Utah
SALT LAKE CITY — Few NBA teams are racking up frequent flyer miles faster than the Houston Rockets. Houston has taken the idea of being road warriors to insane levels early in the season.
When the Rockets square off against the Utah Jazz on Tuesday night, it will mark the 12th road game in the team's first 18 games. Houston (11-6) has experienced plenty of success away from its home arena. The Rockets have posted seven wins in 11 road games so far and have averaged 110.8 points per game in those contests. Only two teams — Detroit and Atlanta — have held Houston under 100 points.
The latest road victory, a 130-114 triumph over Portland, may have been the most impressive yet for Houston's offense. The Rockets shot 56.1 percent from the field overall and scorched the nets from the perimeter, burying 47.2 percent (17 for 36) of their attempts from 3-point range.
“We've been tested, and guys are playing well,” James Harden said following Sunday's win over Portland. “Our system, our team, the coaching staff — the entire group is really good right now. Guys have bought in, and we all have one goal.”
Harden, in particular, has thrived in coach Mike D'Antoni's run-and-gun system. Harden exploded for 38 points and 10 assists against the Blazers. The veteran guard is averaging 28.9 points and a career-high 12.2 assists this season. He leads the league in assists and is dishing out nearly five more assists per game than his previous career high of 7.5 assists a season ago.
Utah is poised to offer a stiff test to Harden and Houston's high-flying defense. The Jazz (10-8) have won two straight home games since point guard George Hill returned from a thumb injury. They allowed just 75.5 points per game in those victories over Denver and Atlanta and won by an average margin of 26 points.
Getting into an offensive slugfest isn't a problem for Utah either. The Jazz have won three straight while scoring 105 points per game. Gordon Hayward and Hill have formed a dynamic one-two scoring punch over that span.
Hill is averaging 23.0 points per game over the last three games since returning to the lineup. Hayward is averaging 23.3 points in that same stretch. Their leadership has been a difference maker in rallying Utah from a tough stretch where it lost four straight games while Hill was sidelined.
“I think it's maturity,” Utah coach Quin Snyder said after the team's 112-103 win over Minnesota on Monday night. “There's some guys out there that didn't get rattled. George Hill, tonight, didn't play well the first half and really dug his way out of it, and ended up playing a very, very good game.”
Utah and Houston have faced each other once already this season. The Rockets cruised to a 111-102 victory over the Jazz on Nov. 19 behind 31 points, 10 assists and zero turnovers from Harden.