Jazz host road-tested Rockets
SALT LAKE CITY -- Beating the Rockets away from Houston these days is as challenging as slowing down their explosive offense.
Houston has been unstoppable away from home. The Rockets (18-4) share the Western Conference lead in large part because they have won 10 of their first 11 road games. They have six consecutive road victories heading into a Thursday game against the Jazz in Utah, capturing each of those contests by at least 15 points.
Another win at Salt Lake City would give Houston an 11-1 mark on the road for the first time since the 1996-97 season.
The key behind Houston's ability to consistently win convincingly on the road is playing with energy and purpose. This Rockets team already has its sights set on a bigger picture.
"I'm looking to win the championship this year," guard James Harden said after Houston's 118-95 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday. "I think that's all of our goals. It's a buildup. It's going to be every game. Every day is a grind. There's going to be some up and some downs. But as long as we've got our eyes on the biggest prize, we'll be all good."
Harden is putting together an MVP-worthy effort to keep the ship sailing in the right direction. He has scored at least 20 points in all 22 of Houston's games. Harden currently is the league leader in scoring (31.7 points per game), and he ranks second in assists (9.7 per game) among qualifiers behind Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook.
The return of Chris Paul to the lineup has offered an extra boost to the Rockets as well. Houston is 8-0 with Paul on the court, and he has emerged as the team leader in assists (9.8), steals (1.9) and 3-point shooting (42.5 percent).
With those two leading the way, stopping the Rockets' offense is virtually impossible.
"We've just got too many good offensive players," Houston coach Mike D'Antoni said. "It would be very hard for us to go a long time without making shots or making baskets or James figuring something out or Chris is figuring something out."
No one needs to tell Utah how dangerous either player can be.
The Jazz (13-12) already experienced firsthand how much damage Harden can do when playing in peak form. The veteran guard scored 56 points on 19-of-25 shooting to fuel a 137-110 victory over the Jazz on Nov. 5. His outburst helped the Rockets become one of only two teams to score more than 110 points on the Jazz this season.
Utah is looking to bounce back after falling to Oklahoma City 100-94 on Tuesday night, following a fourth quarter in which the Jazz scored a season-low 14 points. The loss snapped a six-game winning streak for Utah.
"I thought we ran out of steam a little bit just emotionally," Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. "We've got to be able to play through that."
Utah seems better equipped offensively to keep pace with Houston than a month ago with Donovan Mitchell's emergence as a capable replacement for Gordon Hayward.
Mitchell shined against Oklahoma City. He scored a team-high 31 points, although he also committed a pair of costly turnovers down the stretch in the fourth quarter. The rookie guard emerged as Utah's top offensive threat in late November and shows no signs of dropping off.
Mitchell has hit 61 3-pointers through his first 25 games -- the most ever in NBA history by a rookie through his first 25 contests -- and has shot 40 percent or better from long distance in six straight games. He is averaging 31 points on 53.3 percent shooting in December.
Updated December 7, 2017