This should be one of the best first-round series in the NBA playoffs this season. They have contrasting styles so it will be interesting to watch. Watching Jerry Sloan and Jeff Van Gundy coach against each other will be like watching a chess match. Here’s the breakdown of the matchups:
POINT GUARD: The Jazz will look to use the size difference at point guard to their advantage in this series. Deron Williams has become a fantastic point guard for the Utah Jazz as he can do it all. He averaged 16.2 points, 3.3 rebounds and 9.3 assists per game. Look for him to post up Rafer Alston if he gets the opportunity to and that will be a huge mis-match in the Jazz’ favor. Rafer Alston of the Rockets is a speedy, shoot-first type of point guard. He has a nice three-point stroke when he’s not selfish with the basketball. He averaged 13.3 points, 3.4 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game this season. EDGE: JAZZ
SHOOTING GUARD: Tracy McGrady is determined to have the Rockets win a playoff series, because it’s something that he’s never done in his NBA career. McGrady should be able to really go nuts on the Jazz, especially if the Jazz use Derek Fisher against him on defense. I have a funny feeling that Andrei Kirilenko will be covering T-Mac most of the time. It won’t matter who’s guarding him because he’s going to go off in this series. He averaged 24.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game this season, but look for him to improve on all of those numbers in this series. Derek Fisher did a good job for the Jazz this season as he averaged 10.1 points, 1.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. He has a nice outside shot, but he’s likely to get shut down in this series. EDGE: GIGANTIC FOR THE ROCKETS
SMALL FORWARD: Andrei Kirilenko had an off season with his offense, but his defense stayed strong. He averaged 8.3 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. Look for him to pick his game up in the playoffs because he’s a much better basketball player than he showed this season. He will hit the boards hard in the playoffs and play his usual stellar defense. Shane Battier of the Rockets is a good team player as he averaged 10.1 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists. Still, Battier will have problems with the Jazz’ forwards because of their size and strength. EDGE: JAZZ
POWER FORWARD: Carlos Boozer of the Jazz did his best Karl Malone imitation this season as he averaged 20.9 points, 11.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Look for Boozer to have a great series against the Rockets as Chuck Hayes and Juwan Howard will have a hard time keeping Boozer away from the basket. Young Chuck Hayes has his work cut out for him in this series. He did play very well when he was elevated to the starting lineup in April. He averaged 5.6 points, 6.7 rebounds and 0.6 assists this season. He will need to do more on offense to make Boozer work on the defensive side of the court, or else Boozer will have a big series. EDGE: HUGE FOR THE JAZZ
CENTER: Yao Ming is the best center in the NBA and this season he took his game to a new level. To be a superstar you have to do it in the playoffs and he will starting tonight. Yao averaged 25.0 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game this season as Coach Van Gundy convinced Yao to be more selfish with the basketball. Yao will probably be guarding Carlos Boozer a lot as the Jazz’ center, Mehmet Okur likes to shoot a lot from the outside. Okur averaged 17.6 points, 7.2 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game. This will be an interesting matchup. EDGE: ROCKETS
BENCH: The Jazz have a huge edge here. Matt Harpring led the NBA in floorburns as he dives for every loose ball and his enthusiasm rubs off on his teammates when he’s on the court. He averaged 11.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game. Gordan Giricek is a soft player but he’s a good outside shooter. He averaged 7.8 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.0 assist per game this season. Rookies Paul Millsap (6.8 points, 5.2 rebounds, 0.8 assists) and Ronnie Brewer (4.6 points, 1.3 rebounds, 0.4 assists) both will give the Jazz good minutes off the bench. Veteran Jarron Collins will provide a couple of minutes of rest for one of the big men on the Jazz, but dont’ expect much from him as he only averaged 2.5 points, 2.1 rebounds and 0.7 assists per game.
The Rockets bench will not play much in this series with the exception of Luther Head and Juwan Howard. Head is a great shooter and he provides instant offense off the bench. He averaged 10.9 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game this season. Juwan Howard will be important in the paint as he averaged 9.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game this season. Kirk Snyder will likely get a chance to contribute some in this series as he only averaged 4.9 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.0 assist per game this season. The Rockets will need the minutes from Snyder that would have went to Bonzi Wells if he didn’t quit the team. Dikembe Mutombo will replace Yao when he needs a rest. He’s still an elite defender and a good rebounder. He averaged 3.1 points, 6.5 rebounds and 0.2 assists per game this season. EDGE: JAZZ
PREDICTION: This will be a hard fought series, but the Jazz’ teamwork will prevail in 7 games.