The Houston Rockets’ inability to make it out of the first round of the playoffs during their four years under Jeff Van Gundy led to a coaching change in the offseason.
On Friday, Houston and new coach Rick Adelman visit the Utah Jazz, the team that ousted the Rockets from the playoffs last year.
In Van Gundy’s final season with Houston, he led the Rockets (1-0) to their best record in 10 years, but for the third time under his leadership, they failed to advance past the first round, losing in seven games to the Jazz (1-0).
Houston last advanced past the first round during the 1996-97 season, when it lost to the Jazz in the Western Conference finals. Since then, Utah has eliminated Houston in two of its last five postseason trips, including the first round of the 1998 playoffs.
Adelman’s team began this season with a 95-93 road victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday. Tracy McGrady scored 30 points, Yao Ming had 25 points and 12 rebounds and Shane Battier had 11 points, including the go-ahead 3-pointer with 2.5 seconds remaining.
Houston held a 14-point lead with less than eight minutes remaining, but the Lakers rallied to tie the game at 92 with 13 seconds left. After Battier made his 3, he fouled Kobe Bryant before the Lakers star could get off a shot. Bryant made one free throw, then purposely missed the second, but the rebound was knocked out of his hands to seal Houston’s victory.
“Overall, I thought it obviously was a good win,” Adelman said. “We just didn’t finish it very well, but the second half we were pretty solid until the last few minutes.”
The Rockets hired Adelman hoping he could bring a more up-tempo offense to the team after they finished last year ranked 27th in the league in field-goal percentage (44.5) and 17th in points per game (97.0).
The new offense got off to a rocky start Tuesday with Houston scoring just 16 points in the opening quarter, but it scored 27 in the second to go into the half tied at 43. The Rockets finished the game shooting 45.9 percent from the field.
In 2006-07, Houston lost three of four during the regular season against the Jazz, including both games at EnergySolutions Arena. Overall, the Rockets have dropped six straight in Salt Lake City, including three playoff games last year.
Yao, who is one of the biggest supporters of Adelman’s new offensive scheme, missed two regular-season matchups against the Jazz last year because of injuries. He has averaged just 17.2 points in 16 career regular-season games against them - tied for his third-lowest average against any conference opponent.
Utah, which lost to eventual NBA champion San Antonio in the conference finals last season, opened 2007-08 with a 117-96 road win Tuesday over Golden State—the team it beat in May’s conference semifinals.
“We know they wanted payback from us ending their season,” said Deron Williams, who had 24 points and eight assists. “We didn’t try to get into a track race with them, because they would win that. We just kept it to our pace and drove them into the ground.”
Carlos Boozer had 32 points and 15 rebounds, and along with Williams, is expected to lead the Jazz on the offensive end. But on Tuesday, they received some productive minutes from 2006 first-round draft pick Ronnie Brewer and Paul Millsap, who scored 18 and 16 points, respectively.
Utah outrebounded the Warriors 56-37 and led by as many as 24 points.
“I thought we played a lot better than I had originally anticipated,” coach Jerry Sloan said. “We have some size advantages and Boozer was able to show his strength inside.”
The Jazz, who play five of their first eight games in Salt Lake City, tied for the NBA’s third-best home record last season at 31-10.