The Jazz will be looking to improve their playoff chances when they host the Rockets. Utah is in a three-way tie with the Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers for the only remaining postseason spot in the Western Conference.
Utah had won two straight before getting crushed by the Dallas Mavericks 117-94 on Thursday. Raja Bell led the Jazz with 18 points off the bench, but Utah was outscored 35-18 in the first quarter and was never able to recover.
“We got into a situation where we wanted to play a little bit like they did, take quick shots,” Jazz coach Jerry Sloan said. “Then we missed a couple of shots early and we panicked. When you get a young team and they panic, it’s hard to get them back.”
While the Jazz are looking for their 21st consecutive playoff berth, the Rockets wrapped up their first bid in five years with a 106-103 win over the Nuggets on Friday.
Steve Francis, who scored a season-high 33 points, will be making the first playoff appearance of his career.
“Since my rookie year, all I’ve wanted to do was be in the playoffs,” Francis said. “But it’s like coach (Jeff Van Gundy) said, we don’t want to be complacent. We want to move up. We have games to play and we don’t want to just show up.
“We want to go in the playoffs on a good note. We know we can play with anybody. Tonight was a good game for us and we want to try and keep the same mentality. We don’t want to settle for just being in the playoffs. We want to make some noise in them.”
Yao Ming, who had 12 points and six rebounds, knows making the playoffs is a big deal to the Rockets’ veterans.
“You can tell more from the other players because they’ve been here longer,” Yao said. “They have more of a feeling for it. It’s like New Year’s to me.”
STANDINGS (through April 8): Rockets - 5th place, 11 1/2 GB, Midwest Division. Jazz - 7th place, 14 GB, Midwest Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Rockets - Yao, 17.5 ppg and 9.1 rpg; Francis, 6.3 apg. Jazz - Kirilenko, 16.5 ppg and 8.1 rpg; Arroyo, 5 apg.
SEASON SERIES: Rockets, 2-1.
LAST MEETING: Jan. 3; Rockets, 84-63. At Houston, Francis had 17 points and seven assists, and the Rockets limited the Jazz to 35.3 percent shooting to win their second straight. DeShawn Stevenson led Utah with 11 points.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Rockets - 17-22 on the road; Jazz - 27-12 at home.