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Field Level Media - Professional sports content solutions | FLM

Apr 10, 2024 8:13 pm

Rockets looking to maintain improved play at expense of losing Jazz

Rockets, Jazz

The last two times Houston and Utah played in March, the Jazz were in the middle of a lengthy losing streak and the Rockets were in hot pursuit of a spot in the NBA’s postseason.

While that still sums up where Utah (29-50) finds itself with three games remaining in the regular season, Houston (39-40) has since been eliminated from the playoffs despite a late surge.

A recent five-game losing streak ultimately ended the Rockets’ play-in hopes, but they’ll look to win a second consecutive game when they begin a season-ending road trip Thursday night in Salt Lake City.

Houston snapped out of its funk Tuesday with a 118-106 win over the Orlando Magic in its home finale. Ending a bad streak hasn’t happened yet for the Jazz.

“We wanted to continue to build and we know we’re out of the race but we have four to go,” Rockets coach Ime Udoka said. “We don’t want to just lay down and chalk it up… we fought hard and played well.”

Fred VanVleet led the Rockets with a season-high 37 points with six 3-pointers, eight rebounds and six assists. Jabari Smith Jr. contributed 23 points.

Houston looked at the outcome as avenging a 116-86 blowout loss to the Magic on Oct. 25.

“They kicked our butts the first game of the season,” VanVleet said. “We definitely remember that. So it was good to get some get back there.”

The Rockets’ last win before Tuesday came six games prior in a 101-100 road victory over the Jazz. It was their final victory of an 11-game winning streak, which at the time put Houston back into the postseason race.

That March 29 game was also Utah’s eighth consecutive defeat. The Rockets had beaten the Jazz the previous week 147-119.

Short-handed Utah, which is missing several key veterans to injury, including Lauri Markkanen (shoulder), has continued to slump. The Jazz’s losing streak now stands at 13.

Talen Horton-Tucker topped Utah with 24 points off the bench in the team’s 111-95 home loss to the defending champion Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night. Omer Yurtseven (20 points) and Luka Samanic (15) each recorded season-highs in scoring for Utah, which has been giving a variety of younger players ample playing opportunities in the latter half of the season.

“There was a lot of good basketball our team played tonight,” Jazz coach Will Hardy said. “We just have some stretches where we sort of lose the plot.”

The Jazz made a game out of it in the second half until fizzling in the fourth quarter when they scored only 15 points.

Hardy was impressed by Horton-Tucker’s mental and physical preparation to play after he had been in and out of the lineup.

“For a majority of the game, he was our best player,” Hardy said. “We were struggling to create advantages early in the game and I thought when Talen came in, his ability to drive downhill wasn’t shocking. I thought he did a really good job tonight of attacking the rim, especially in the first half. … I thought he kept us in the game.”

The Rockets will be looking to sweep the four-game season series with the Jazz.

–Field Level Media

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