Rockets 112, Jazz 101 - Not Good Enough

Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

The Utah Jazz have shown themselves to be a good basketball team. They had won six games in a row before a loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder heading into their appointment with the Houston Rockets. They'd lifted their margin of victory to over 4.5 points per game, a very solid number indicative of a solid playoff team. After a string of weak opponents, they had a chance to slow down the Houston Rockets train, perhaps even hand them their first loss in 8 games. Unfortunately for the Jazz, they just weren't good enough. But in losing by a mere 11 points, the Jazz showed the Rockets that they may not be good enough either.

It's a bizarre NBA in which a double-digit lead against a quality opponent is a disappointment, but this is the existence of a title hopeful in the world the Golden State Warriors dominate. The Rockets, so far, look like the most credible threat to the Warriors in the championship hunt, which is a heavy crown to wear. The simple fact of the matter is that no matter how good the Rockets are, they need to get better. They are neck-and-neck with the Warriors in terms of net rating and adjusted rating, and while this is staggering, it's probably not good enough. The best team in the league are so good that even if you're better then them, they're still probably better than you. The Warriors are battling injuries, boredom and frustration. It's a game they can't lose, because no matter what they do, the safe bet is always on them. Beating the Jazz by 11 points is very good, better than any reasonable expectation. It's also not good enough.

The Jazz, of course, also weren't good enough. With newly returned Rudy Gobert down low and passing maestro Ricky Rubio at the perimeter, the Jazz have found a rookie gem to add to the mix in Donovan Mitchell. Mitchell in particular was impressive, a player likely to have a long career at worst or perhaps find his way into an All-Star Game or two if he tracks to the top of his arc. Under the reins of inspirational maniac and head coach Quin Snyder, the Jazz are a perennial playoff team and have been able to run over the lower half of the game, and even run the Washington Wizards off the court. This is a good, real team with an elite, awesome defense. They also are not good enough.

Chris Paul had his way, toying with them seemingly for his own amusement. He had some rough stretches, but the smooth outweighed them so much that he ended the night one rebound shy of a triple double (18 points, 13 assists, 9 rebounds) as the Rockets turned a five point lead at halftime into a twenty-plus point lead for much of the third and fourth quarters. He is feasting on bench units, just as the Rockets organization and fans had hoped. There remain a couple questions about his fit when Harden is on the court with him, but these are minor at worst. Their dominance separately, however, remains unmatched.

James Harden scored 29 in that game, 8 of which came from four-point plays. There's little to say about Harden any more, except to reiterate what we know. He's the foremost offensive maestro, his shot has only gotten better, and his tendency to ball watch on defense is his only liability on the court. We've come to accept that this is who he is, when a few years ago it wasn't clear if he could be the best player on a contender. He may be having the best season in the league this year. He's, by most measures, the favorite for MVP so far. It also may not be good enough.

There's nothing bad to take away from this game for the Rockets. It was a strange game against a solid team in which the opponent kept it close in the first half and was then railroaded in the second. The main difference was that it was not the garbage time squad who let the lead get sliced a bit at the end, which is a little embarrassing but not even a yellow flag. Their goal is and should be to win and be ready for the rigors of the postseason, not to run up a net rating on some spreadsheet. If they did care about that, though, they'd come to the same conclusion Chris Paul did after the game. "We know we got to be better," he said. They're already aware. They're very, shockingly, amazingly great. But they're still not good enough.

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