Jazz-Rockets Preview

The Associated Press

The Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets sound like desperate teams with 15 games remaining and their postseason fates uncertain.

That's just fine with coaches Tyrone Corbin and Kevin McHale, who hope to see more inspired play when their clubs meet in a crucial matchup Wednesday night in Houston.

Utah (34-33) sits in ninth place in the Western Conference, one game behind the Los Angeles Lakers for the final playoff spot and two back of seventh-place Houston (36-31).

The Jazz have dropped nine of 12, including Monday's 90-83 home loss to undermanned New York. They've shot 38.8 percent over the last three contests and now begin a three-game road trip versus conference foes also battling for playoff positioning.

"Houston's not going to feel sorry for us," Corbin said. "We go to San Antonio (Friday) and then Dallas (Sunday), and those guys aren't going to feel sorry for us, either. If we feel sorry for ourselves, it's going to be a long trip. We have to pick ourselves up and lay everything we have out there on the floor."

Gordon Hayward scored 17 points Monday for the second straight game - his first two starts after coming off the bench for his previous 45 appearances.

"Houston is a team right there with us in the race and we've got to go in there and steal one from them," Hayward said. "It's going to be a big game for us."

The Rockets have been inconsistent recently and suffered the consequences in a 108-78 home loss to Golden State on Sunday. One of the league's highest-scoring teams averaging 106.5 points, Houston was held to its lowest total of the season.

Houston's edge in the playoff race is slim, and McHale said it will need to get better down the stretch if it plans to improve its seeding after it fell two games behind the sixth-place Warriors.

"We have 15 games left. We've got to be desperate," McHale said. "We've got to come out more ready to play and we've got to come out with an edge."

Houston had eight turnovers to five assists in the first half Sunday and also started slowly in Friday's 108-100 win over Minnesota, having to overcome a 20-point deficit.

"I think the starting unit has to look at themselves," McHale said. "It starts with me and this next game against Utah has to be we're going to do whatever it takes to get out to an early lead."

The Rockets weren't in any danger the last time they faced the Jazz, leading by as many as 50 points while holding them to 39.5 percent shooting in a 125-80 road victory Jan. 28.

James Harden, who ranks among the league leaders averaging 26.3 points, hit 8 of 15 shots and scored 25 as all of Houston's starters sat the entire fourth quarter.

"We could have had Michael Jordan in his prime with us and it wouldn't have mattered," Jazz center Al Jefferson said after that contest.

Utah also fell 124-116 at Houston on Dec. 1 and is 10-24 on the road. It has dropped a season-worst six straight and nine of 10 away from home while averaging 86.3 points over the last three. The Jazz last lost seven in a row on the road Dec. 4-19, 2007.

"We've got to continue to fight. Forget the road, we just have to win games, period," said forward Paul Millsap, who is averaging only 10.5 points over his last four games. "We know what we're all about, we've just got to get out there and show it.

"We still believe we can make a run, and I feel like we will do it."