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With only nine active players and eight absences — including big names like Christian Wood, John Wall, Eric Gordon, Victor Oladipo (back-to-back maintenance), and PJ Tucker (not with team) — the Houston Rockets didn’t appear to have much of a chance at Utah on Friday night.
After all, the Jazz (28-9) have the NBA’s best record, whereas the Rockets (11-25) have lost 15 straight games and one of the league’s worst marks. It’s the longest losing streak by the franchise in more than 20 years. Utah also entered with over a week’s worth of rest coming off the All-Star break, whereas Houston had played in Sacramento the night before.
And yet, the Rockets made a game of it in a tighter-than-expected 114-99 loss (box score). Utah entered as a 17-point favorite, and All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell did his part with 28 points and 8 assists.
But even with their chances of a playoff push becoming more remote by the day, it felt like a positive night for the Rockets from the perspective of prospect development. Rookie forward KJ Martin (15 points, 10 rebounds) showed flashes, including an epic block of Utah’s Rudy Gobert, while second-year guard Kevin Porter Jr. led the way with 27 points (44% FG) and 8 assists. After trailing by as many 23 points early in the second half, the Rockets cut the deficit to as little as four during a spirited fourth-quarter rally that came up just a bit short.
It’s not nearly the same as a win, of course. But with Houston’s fate in the 2020-21 season becoming increasingly evident, there were signs of progress from players who could give them better days in the future. See below for a compilation of Friday’s highlights and key takeaways.