Rockets seek consistency against visiting Jazz

HOUSTON — In the never-ending search for early-season trends that might serve as an indicator of long-term behavior, the Houston Rockets followed their fifth loss of the season on Wednesday night with a victory over the Portland Trail Blazers one evening later to avoid suffering their first losing skid on the season.

The Rockets (7-5), with a new coach and reconfigured roster, remain in search of consistency. Yet, their ability to rebound from setbacks offers optimism, particularly this week given the disappointment that resonated after their come-from-ahead loss against Oklahoma City. Houston led by as many as 11 points before falling 105-103.

“We're still fairly new as a team,” said Rockets guard James Harden, who followed a season-worst 13-point performance against the Thunder with his third triple-double of the season against Portland. “We're still trying to figure each other out. As long as we can bounce back and continue to get better, continue to grow and learn from our mistakes, we'll be all right.”

Through victory and defeat the Rockets, who host the Utah Jazz (7-6) on Saturday at Toyota Center, are working to establish their identity. They fancy themselves as a space-and-pace outfit yet they rank a modest 14th in the NBA in pace at 97.2 possessions per 48 minutes. They are fifth in offensive rating and are coming off back-to-back games where seven and six players reached double figures in scoring.

With the return of guard Patrick Beverley, Houston aims to improve defensively. What they've shown through a dozen games is a willingness to work at everything.

“We're going to make some mistakes and we still have some improving to do,” Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said. “As long as they come with that attitude every day and work at it and fix their mistakes, then good things will happen.”

Injuries continue to undermine the Jazz, who followed a successful five-game swing through the Eastern Conference with consecutive home losses. Utah went 4-1 before returning home and dropping games against the Memphis Grizzlies and Chicago Bulls, with the absences of guard George Hill (thumb) and forward Derrick Favors (knee) looming large.

“We've had a lot of guys adjusting to injury,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “There's a lot of that going on.

“I don't want to overreact to one player playing poorly or our team playing poorly. That doesn't get you where you want to go.”

Without Hill, who has missed six games, the Jazz can appear rudderless. Utah was emboldened by the return of forward Gordon Hayward to open their road trip but Hill provides a veteran touch orchestrating the offense that isn't easily replaced.

Second-year guard Dante Exum has started the last four games in place of Hill and over the previous six games is averaging nine points and two assists while shooting just 40.8 percent. Prior to his injury, Hill was averaging 20.4 points and five assists.

Incidentally, Utah ranks dead last in the NBA in pace at 90.6 possessions per 48. Hill is questionable for a return against the Rockets, but with or without him Utah must find the rhythm it established on the road only to lose it back in Salt Lake City.

“We're going to go on this two-game road trip and hopefully get the best of that,” Exum said.