• Lost amid the Houston Rockets’ casual blowout victory over the Utah Jazz in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals was the losers’ quietly encouraging offensive performance after intermission. The Jazz trailed 64-39 at halftime, making the remaining 24 minutes of Sunday’s contest something close to a formality. The Rockets played like it, too, a development Mike D’Antoni lamented on the postgame podium.

    “You get in the game and you’re up 27 or up 24, and you kind of let down and it’s hard to get it back,” he said. “Give them credit, they kept fighting. We did what we were supposed to do and obviously we’re all happy, but we can do better.”

    “My job is to nit-pick and try to get better when we’re not good.”

    Quin Snyder doesn’t have the luxury of picking nits in wake of a convincing double-digit victory. Utah was always the clear underdog in this series, and what transpired at Toyota Center on Sunday, at least from a big-picture perspective, made it hard to believe the Jazz have much of a chance. Despite Houston’s laissez-faire approach to the second half of a game that had already been decided, Utah never closed its gap to less than 11 points. Even far from the Rockets’ best for an entire half of a playoff game was enough to keep their road-weary opponent at a full arm’s length.

    That’s a depressing reality for Utah, but not an unexpected one. The Jazz don’t have the horses to easily dig themselves out of a deep hole on the scoreboard, and Houston’s defensive approach makes doing so difficult for even the most high-powered offenses. Everything that took place in the second half of Game 1, which Utah won 57-46, deserves caveats of score, time and personnel. On the other hand, that doesn’t mean there isn’t any optimism to glean going forward from a Jazz attack that looked far more comfortable in the third and fourth quarters – especially considering its early labors.

    “We weren’t making the right decisions, and we were too slow in making whatever decisions we were making, you know, particularly early in the game, but really throughout the game,” Snyder said. “We got better at it as the game went on, but that’s the challenge. Their length, their quickness, what they do, you have to make quick decisions, and you have to know where you’re going with the ball even before you get it, or at least have an idea.”

    Utah shot 57.1 percent from the field and had a 109.0 offensive rating in the second half, per NBA.com/stats. Those numbers are varying degrees of impressive, but definitely impressive nonetheless, and support the notion that Snyder touched on after the game.

    Making reads on the fly and immediately taking action is the Jazz’s surest means of overcoming the Rockets’ defense. Sometimes, that’s as simple as Donovan Mitchell aggressively going at subpar defenders after they switch onto the ball. Why wait for another screen, yielding another switch, or Houston to send extra help behind the initial point of attack when Mitchell suddenly has James Harden or Ryan Anderson in his path?

    Involving Harden in as many actions as possible won’t only test his mettle defensively, but also tire him out on the other end. The more he has to communicate, the greater likelihood his tendency to space out will rear its ugly head.

    Attacking one defender is not the way Utah normally plays. It ranked seventh in passes per game and touches per game this season despite playing at the league’s sixth-slowest pace. “Advantage basketball,” the way Snyder describes his ballyhooed multi-side, multi-action offensive system, isn’t about one player exploiting one defender. But there are only so many advantages the Jazz have at their disposal against a defense like Houston’s; they can’t sidestep individual ones with anywhere close to the frequency they did throughout 2017-18 and expect to score efficiently in the second round.

    The same holds true with regard to transition. A whopping 81.9 percent of Utah’s possessions, fifth-most in basketball, came in the half court during the regular season, per Cleaning the Glass. Running just isn’t a big part of the Jazz’s finely-tuned ethos on offense. Snyder implored his team to push the pace from the opening tip regardless, knowing full well that Utah always had its best chance to score when the Rockets weren’t set defensively.

    Of course, creating transition opportunities is far easier when the Jazz get a stop. Harden has a penchant for lolling back on defense, one Utah’s athletes routinely exploited in the second half after Rudy Gobert or Derrick Favors stymied the future MVP and his teammates at the rim.

    Alec Burks, by the way, should remain a factor for Utah even after Ricky Rubio returns to the lineup. He has more off-dribble verve than any player on his team save for Mitchell. A nagging habit of stopping the ball and long-time lack of reliable shooting range make Burks a tough fit for the Jazz’s normal offensive schemes, but his ability to break down defenders looms far larger than normal in this series.

    The absence of a playmaking savant like Rubio does, too. He sees everything offensively, and not just what’s already occurred or is in the process of unfolding. Rubio plays a step ahead of the defense, creating passing angles with an extra dribble, ball fake or even more subtle forms of manipulation. Mitchell has that nascent ability, and Dante Exum’s pace in the halfcourt and open floor caused problems for Houston at times in Game 1.

    Joe Ingles is a high-level passer, too, but isn’t quite equipped to shoulder the burden of a full-time floor general. He’s also a deadeye shooter, crucial to Utah spacing the floor as the Rockets offer second-line help behind a switch. Rubio is the guy who will unlock all the nuance – back cuts, slipped screens and other seemingly random off-ball movements – that Houston’s defense forces every team to muster.

    In the second half, the Jazz did a much better job of finding those wrinkles than they did early. Mitchell used a buzz of screens away from the ball to put his defender at ease before bursting to the paint. Utah began using the Rockets’ readiness to switch against them, with the screener sprinting out of would-be picks on the ball to open driving lanes. They also found success running ball screens closer to the basket, where defenders have to stand even taller on their toes to avoid missteps.

    Rubio, for instance, would have found Gobert or Favors slipping to the rim after setting “floppy”-style screens for Ingles in the clip below.

    Much was made of Gobert failing to attempt a single shot in the first half. More casual postseason viewers will be disappointed to learn that Utah won’t be trying to beat switches by throwing the ball to its towering seven-footer on the block. Gobert just isn’t that type of player. Favors has more utility in that regard, but is still his best finishing plays as opposed to creating them.

    After a switch, the Jazz’s big men need to do a much better job rolling into deep post position, sealing smaller defenders on their backs. Even if ball handlers don’t find them, and Rubio almost always will, establishing that space in the paint will allow for easy offensive rebounding opportunities. Gobert and Favors just didn’t take advantage of their size nearly enough in Game 1.

    Along those same lines, Utah’s shooters can’t be stagnant after goading a switch and giving up the ball. Immediately relocating and preparing for a kick-out will create good catch-and-shoot looks that the Jazz would normally get from forcing a more traditional defense into rotation after rotation. Against the Rockets, they have to be comfortable letting instincts take over.

    In the first half, when Utah was getting run out of Toyota Center, cameras caught Snyder urging his team to let the game dictate its play. “We’re not gonna figure it out in the huddle right now,” he said. “We’re gonna figure it out on the floor.”

    The Jazz started doing just that over the last 24 minutes of Game 1, circumstances of time and score be damned. On Wednesday night, we’ll learn what they figured out from the film.

Fantasy News

  • Victor Oladipo
    SG, Indiana Pacers

    Victor Oladipo had little to say about his rehab process (ruptured quad tendon) at his basketball camp in Indiana.

    We weren't expecting earth shattering details while Oladipo was busy overseeing his basketball camp, but more information about the Pacer would be most welcome. It is hard to know what you will get from Oladipo on draft day, but you have to figure someone in your league will be interested in taking a gamble on him. He is still not scrimmaging with other players, and whenever he does return to game action this season, it is unlikely he will resume being a top player in the early going.

    Source: The Athletic

  • Briante Weber
    PG, International

    Briante Weber, after spending the end of last season with the Greek club Olympiacos, is joining the Metropolitians 92, based in Boulogne-Levallois, France.

    Weber attended free agent mini-camps in June with the Raptors and Wolves, and spent time in the G-League last year, but has never been able to catch on long-term with an NBA team. He has had brief stops with several NBA squads over the years, so it is possible he could return to a roster at some point this season. There is nothing to see here in terms of fantasy though.

    Source: BeBasket.com

  • Rui Hachimura
    PF, Washington Wizards

    Rui Hachimura showed off his scoring prowess with 31 points in Japan's comeback victory over Germany on Saturday.

    After a nice string of Summer League performances, Rui Hachimura is continuing his strong play in FIBA World Cup exhibition games for Japan. He can clearly get his own look in the mid-range, and the rookie should get a chance to perform for the Wizards this year. Keep an eye on Hachimura's preseason opportunities, as the competition for the Wizards' power forward minutes isn't fierce. He could be worth a late-round flyer in standard league-drafts.

    Source: Mike Schmitz on Twitter

  • Robert Covington
    SF, Minnesota Timberwolves

    Robert Covington (right knee) is not expected to have any limitations heading into training camp.

    Covington had arthroscopic surgery in April after missing 47 games last season due to a bone bruise on his right knee.

    Source: Chris Hine of the Star Tribune

  • Jeff Teague
    PG, Minnesota Timberwolves

    Jeff Teague (left ankle) is not expected to have any restrictions for training camp.

    Teague had a left ankle debridement procedure in April to help alleviate inflammation. Teague's ankles have given him trouble throughout his career and he only played 42 games last season. With a clean bill of health Teague will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing season.

    Source: Chris Hine of the Star Tribune

  • Derrick White
    PG, San Antonio Spurs

    Derrick White has reportedly passed the first concussion test after taking a nasty fall in Team USA's tuneup game vs. the Australian Boomers on Saturday.

    This is good news. White has worked hard for his Team USA roster spot and should provide some guard depth for them once he clears concussion protocols. He was an eye-opener last season and should still hold some fantasy value despite the return of a now-healthy Dejounte Murray.

    Source: Tom Orsborn on Twitter

  • Kyle Kuzma
    PF, Los Angeles Lakers

    Kyle Kuzma (sore left ankle) will not take part in the FIBA World Cup as Team USA announces its final roster.

    Kuzma sat out Team USA's final tuneup against Australia on Saturday as Marc Stein reports that he is flying back to Los Angeles to get treatment. We should still expect him to be ready for training and congrats to Mason Plumlee for making the team as many speculated that he would be the final cut.

    Source: Marc Stein on Twitter

  • Kemba Walker
    PG, Boston Celtics

    Kemba Walker scored 22 points on 7-of-15 shooting with four rebounds with two assists as USA Basketball had it's 78-game winning streak in tournament and exhibition games snapped on Saturday.

    Walker continues to assert himself as the team's best player but USA losing to Australia was the much bigger story in this one. Harrison Barnes also played well as he chipped in 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting to go with six rebounds. USA will take on Canada on Monday in their last exhibition before taking on the Czech Republic in the first official match of the tournament on September 1.

    Source: USAB.com

  • Derrick White
    PG, San Antonio Spurs

    Derrick White left Saturday’s game after tripping and hitting his head on the floor.

    White left without help but there is no word yet on whether he is dealing with a concussion. He finished with eight points, hitting 6-of-7 three throws in nine minutes with another update sure to come. The third-year guard put up top-125 per-game value, playing 25.8 minutes in his second season. Even with the return of Dejounte Murray, White should still be worth a roster spot in most standard leagues.

    Source: Jeff Garcia on Twitter

  • Marcus Smart
    PG, Boston Celtics

    Marcus Smart, sidelined for almost three weeks with calf tightness, returned to action on Saturday as USA lost to Australia in their exhibition.

    Smart only played nine minutes in this one but still managed to score 7 points with three assists days after being named one of the team’s co-captains. Coming off an NBA All-Defensive First Team selection, he produced top-100 per game fantasy value as it seems he may have finally fixed his shot after shooting under 40 percent from the field in his first four seasons. He also produced a career-high in both steals and triples with 1.8 and 1.6 respectively as his career seems to be on the up and up.

    Source: USAB.com