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Western Conference Semifinals Between the Rockets and the Jazz: What You Need to Know

• Houston and Utah are meeting in the playoffs for the eighth time. This is their first matchup in 10 years. Their rivalry took off in the 1990s, when the teams split four series and the winner made the NBA Finals each time.

• Those 1990s matchups featured a memorable clash in the 1997 Western Conference Finals. That year, John Stockton made a game-winning, series-clinching buzzer-beater in Game 6 to lift Utah into the NBA Finals for the first time. The Jazz now has another Stockton on its roster: John’s son, David, is a backup point guard.

• The Jazz is seeking its first trip to the Conference Finals since 2007. In the first round that year, Utah rallied from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits to eliminate the Rockets, winning a Game 7 in Houston.

• These were the NBA’s two best teams from Jan. 24 through the end of the regular season. Houston went 32-5 during that period; Utah went 29-6, a dramatic turnaround from a 19-28 start.

• Houston won all four regular-season meetings by double digits, but three games took place before Christmas.   

• Utah rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell has developed a close relationship with Houston’s Chris Paul. The two talk regularly, and it was Paul (along with Paul George) who encouraged Mitchell to enter the 2017 NBA Draft instead of returning to Louisville for a third season. Mitchell worked out with Paul last summer.

• James Harden – like Chris Paul – is a big Donovan Mitchell fan. In early November, just as Mitchell was starting to assert himself, Harden mentioned him as a player to watch. Mitchell was flattered by the recognition. 

• Donovan Mitchell has scored 171 points in his first six playoff games (28.5 ppg), the third-highest total among rookies in NBA history – behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (216 points) and Wilt Chamberlain (199 points).  

• Chris Paul is looking to advance to the Conference Finals for the first time in his 13-year career. This is his 10th season in the playoffs but his first time on a team that earned the No. 1 seed in a conference.

• Utah’s Rudy Gobert (France) and Houston’s Clint Capela (Switzerland) are on similar career trajectories. Both were late first-round picks who came to the NBA from the French League, took a few years to get established (including NBA G League stints for each player) and have now emerged as premier rebounders, rim protectors and finishers around the basket. Capela, 23, who is two years younger, considers Gobert to be a role model and loves playing against him. The two faced each other a few times in France.

• If things had played out a bit differently, Joe Ingles (Australia) and Chris Paul could have been teammates – perhaps for years – with the Clippers. In 2014, Ingles was the Clippers’ last preseason cut as LA decided to keep another guard (Jared Cunningham) for its Paul-led backcourt. Utah immediately signed Ingles, who has blossomed into one of the NBA’s top three-point shooters and a solid replacement for Gordon Hayward as the Jazz’s starting small forward. Ingles had a stellar first-round series against Paul George and the Thunder.

• Utah’s Ricky Rubio (Spain) had an excellent first-round series against OKC in his playoff debut, but he left Game 6 with a hamstring injury. If he is limited or unable to play vs. Houston, rookie Royce O’Neale would be poised for a bigger role. Undrafted in 2015 out of Baylor, O’Neale played in Germany and Spain after college and had been set to play in Lithuania this season when the Jazz – impressed with his stint at the 2017 NBA Summer League in Las Vegas – signed him in July. He has made an impact with his defense and rebounding.   

• James Harden scored a then-career-high 56 points in a 137-110 victory over Utah on Nov. 5 of this season. Harden eclipsed that total when he scored a career-high and team-record 60 points against Orlando on Jan. 30.

• Jazz general manager Dennis Lindsey spent 11 seasons with the Rockets as a front-office executive, video coordinator and scout. In 2007, Lindsey hoped to get Houston’s GM job, but it went to Daryl Morey instead. Lindsey then left Houston for San Antonio to essentially replace Spurs assistant GM Sam Presti, who had been hired as the Seattle (now OKC) GM. Lindsey and Morey are two of the most widely regarded GMs in the game.  

• Utah’s Raul Neto and Houston’s Nene are Brazil natives who have been teammates on the national team.

Photo Reference: https://www.slcdunk.com/2017/12/7/16750420/nba-houston-rockets-beat-the-utah-jazz-james-harden-chris-paul-donovan-mitchell