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Reports: Jazz to re-sign point guards Dante Exum, Raul Neto

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Utah is keeping the band together — and they are opening up the pocket book to do it.

First, they re-signed Derrick Favors to a two-year, $36 million contract (with a player option on the second year).

Now, they have re-signed backup point guards Dante Exum and Raul Neto to deals. Both stories were broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Neto is for two years at the minimum. For a third point guard, he’s a great fit.

For Exum, that price seems high.

He has shown flashes of potential, and the Jazz love him, but he played just 14 games last season due to injury (shoulder surgery this past season, an ACL two seasons before that). He has played a total of 80 games total in the last three seasons. When healthy he shows flashes of the potential that got him drafted fifth overall in 2014, but he does not have a three-point shot (27.8 percent last season), and he turns the ball over too much.

Then, against Houston in the second round of the playoffs, with Ricky Rubio out, we saw that potential again. He played good defense on Harden, but he was turning the ball over.

The Jazz have some Rubio insurance in Exum, but at $11 million a season it just seems high.

Utah is bringing back the team from their surprising and impressive 2017-18 season. I get it, there’s a lot to love about that team. But running it back in the NBA is never as easy as it seems.

Rockets dominate Jazz, take Game 4 and 3-1 series lead, 100-87

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Chris Paul had 27 points and 12 rebounds while James Harden scored 24 points to power the Houston Rockets to a 100-87 win over the Utah Jazz on Sunday night, taking a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference semifinal series.

Paul, playing the sidekick to Harden for most of his first season in Houston, took center stage, controlling the tempo and getting to his favorite spots as the Rockets led from start to finish.

Donovan Mitchell scored 25 before fouling out and Joe Ingles had 15 for the Jazz.

Mitchell started finding lanes to the basket late and got the Jazz within 85-80 after he fueled a 10-2 run. But Paul, who matched his scoring high for this playoff run, hit a pull-up jumper and found Trevor Ariza for a 3-pointer to put the Rockets back up by double digits and they never looked back.

Houston, which has been known for their offensive firepower, put forth a disruptive defensive effort.

Clint Capela, the anchor of the Houston defense, had 12 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks, one of which featured a Dikembe Mutombo-like finger wag in the fourth quarter.

The Rockets went up by 15 in the second quarter before the Jazz closed to 51-46 on back-to-back three-point plays by Mitchell. Utah trailed 58-48 at the half.

Neither team was accurate from beyond the arc as the Jazz were 7-for-29 and Houston went 10-for-38.

TIP-INS

Rockets: Harden’s 14 first-quarter points were the most for him in the opening period this postseason. … Flying to close out on an Ingles’ 3-pointer in the second quarter, P.J. Tucker raked the Jazz sharpshooter across the face and earned a Flagrant 1. … Capela and Mitchell got double technical fighting for rebound in the fourth quarter and Houston coach Mike D’Antoni got another for his reaction to the play.

Jazz: Ricky Rubio missed his fourth straight game due to a left hamstring strain suffered in opening round but is close to returning. … Gobert, who had 11 points and 10 rebounds, blocked two shots in the opening moments but the Rockets burst to another big lead, 11-3, just as they did Game 1 and 3. … Royce O'Neale left the game with 9:09 left in the first quarter with an apparent knee injury but returned at the end of the period.

UP NEXT

The series shifts back to Houston for Game 5.

Donovan Mitchell’s putback dunk, passing sparks Jazz to Game 2 win over Rockets

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Donovan Mitchell missed.

Then, he made everyone take notice.

The Jazz rookie clanked a runner midway through the fourth quarter but followed his own miss with a putback dunk that sent shockwaves through Houston.

Even on a poor shooting night, Mitchell helped even Utah’s second-round series with the Rockets, 1-1. He dished a personal-best 11 assists in the Jazz’s 116-108 Game 2 win Wednesday.

When teams split the first two games of a best-of-seven series in one location, the team with home-court advantage has still won 61% of the series. The Rockets were better than the Jazz throughout the season, and one game doesn’t erase that.

But with Game 3 Friday in Utah, Houston must adjust to a rookie whose game looks progressively more well-rounded.

An inefficient gunner early in the season, Mitchell developed into a historically efficient rookie scorer. He even became the rare rookie offensive focal point to lead his team to the playoffs.

With starting point guard Ricky Rubio out injured, Mitchell showed his playmaking chops tonight. Though Mitchell shot just 6-for-21, including 2-for-8 on 3-pointers, he expertly read the Rockets’ defense and spread the ball all over the court.

It also helped his teammates knocked down the shots he helped generate. Led by Joe Ingles (27 points on 7-of-9 3-point shooting), Mitchell’s teammates shot 62% on 2-pointers and 54% on 3-pointers.

So much flowed through Mitchell, though. There’s a reason he was a game-high +13.

James Harden carried an even larger load for Houston with 32 points and 11 assists – many to Clint Capela (21 points and 11 rebounds). But the Rockets shot a dreadful 27% on 3-pointers, including 2-of-10 by Harden. Rudy Gobert played his usual stout defense inside (eventually).

Houston is capable of hitting a high offensive level more regularly. Only Utah did it tonight.

Falling behind by 19 in the first half didn’t help the Rockets. Amid too much defensive miscommunication and offensive laziness, they dug themselves a hole – then climbed out of it. Houston led with eight minutes left.

But the Jazz found a formula that worked tonight. Counting only points scored or assisted by Mitchell, Utah outscored the Rockets down the stretch.

The game featured testiness between P.J. Tucker and Mitchell, Gobert and Harden, Jae Crowder and Harden. This series is turning out to be more competitive than it appeared it’d be after Game 1.

Because Mitchell keeps rising to the escalating challenge facing him.

 

Rockets jump to early lead, cruise in Game 1 win over Jazz

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If you’re the coach of an NBA team, you know what the Houston Rockets are going to try to do to you. Usually, you’re powerless to stop it. That was the position Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder found himself in on Sunday as his team took on the Houston Rockets in Game 1 of their semifinal series against each other.

The Rockets played their usual game, putting the Jazz into poor defensive positions as they vacillated between crisp ball movement and devastating isolation play. Utah, meanwhile, just didn’t have the firepower to match Houston. The Jazz had to play without Ricky Rubio after he injured his hamstring, instead calling on Dante Exum to fill some of his minutes.

The result was that Houston played much the way we’ve seen them do all season long. The Rockets ran, getting out on the break and punishing the shorthanded Jazz from the 3-point line. Houston was 10-of-16 from beyond the arc in the first half alone, with PJ Tucker and Harden leading the way. The Rockets put Utah in a tough position, forcing switches and moving the ball. Harden & Co. used an 11-2 run to end the second quarter to take a 25-point lead into halftime.

Snyder made some adjustments during the break, allowing the Jazz to gain seven points on the Rockets in the third quarter. Donovan Mitchell led the charge as Utah concentrated their attack in the painted area. Utah also did a better job defending the 3-point line to open the second half, although even with a redoubled effort they still only kept Houston to 36 percent from deep in the third quarter.

The Rockets stabilized, and although Utah continued to play better in the fourth quarter the visiting Jazz just couldn’t overcome the lead Houston built in the first half. At no point did the Snyder’s team unplug one of Houston’s weapons — the best the Jazz could manage was to turn down the volume.

As such, Harden scored a whopping 41 points to go along with eight rebounds and seven assists. Four of five Rockets starters scored in double figures, and as a team Houston shot 53 percent from the 3-point line.

Utah saw the Rockets concentrate on pushing its guards off the arc. Donovan Mitchell scored 21 points, but went 1-of-7 from the 3-point line. Joe Ingles had 15 points, six rebounds, and five assists, but shot just 1-of-3 from deep. Jae Crowder scored 21 points in a great effort off the bench.

After a thrilling, heartening win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in the last round, the Jazz got a quick taste of what it’s like to go up against a championship-caliber team locked into playoff mode. It won’t get any easier for Utah, either. They are likely to be without Rubio for Game 2 according to reports, and Mitchell turned his right ankle with 5:33 to go in the fourth on Sunday. Mitchell’s health will be something to keep an eye on as his tissue responds over the next few days.

Game 2 isn’t until Wednesday at 5 p.m. PST. Hopefully that will give Mitchell and Rubio time to rest up, and for Synder to adjust his offensive gameplan to get his scorers more opportunities. Like everyone else in the NBA, Snyder’s task next time out will be to find a way to stop Houston from bombing away from deep like they did on Sunday afternoon.

The Rockets took care of Utah in easy fashion in Game 1, 110-96.

Ricky Rubio out for Game 1, likely 10 days or so, with hamstring strain

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Friday night — thanks to a massive second half from Donovan Mitchell, good ball movement that got other players good looks, and a suffocating defense — the Utah Jazz were able to get by without Ricky Rubio and beat the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Now the Jazz step way up in class to take on the Houston Rockets, and they are again going to have to do it without Rubio for at least a while. Officially, he is out for Game 1 on Sunday, the team announced.

It’s going to be more than one game. Other reports on how long Rubio will be out vary from a week to two, in part because hamstrings heal slowly and are easy to re-aggravate if not right when the player comes back.

Rubio tried to take it in stride.

No Rubio will likely mean Dante Exum starts, with more run for Alec Burks and others.

Rubio had played well against the Thunder, providing a secondary shot creator after Mitchell (on a team that struggles in that area). Rubio averaged 16.8 points and 8.6 assists per game in the last series, although he wasn’t efficient (true shooting percentage of 47.7). Still, his playmaking and willingness to take the shot kept defenses honest.

Without him, it becomes that much more difficult to beat a championship-level Rockets team.